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FACTBOX-Top contenders in Sierra Leone election

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 16 Nov 2012 23:12 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Repeats earlier factbox with no changes)

FREETOWN, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Here are brief biographies of the two main candidates in Sierra Leone's presidential election on Saturday.

PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA, ALL PEOPLE'S CONGRESS PARTY

Koroma, a 59-year-old former insurance executive, came to power in 2007 in a run-off vote. While there is no reliable polling data in Sierra Leone, Koroma is considered the favourite for this year's election.

Koroma is from Bombali District in northern Sierra Leone and his party's powerbase is the northern Temne and Limba tribes. As president he has scored points for infrastructure projects.

In 2010 Koroma's government also introduced free healthcare for pregnant and nursing women and children under five, a largely donor-funded initiative that sought to reduce some of the world's worst infant mortality figures. The project has undoubtedly saved lives but has faced a series of problems with corruption and misappropriation of drugs.

Koroma has repeatedly stated his intention to run Sierra Leone "like a business" and has succeeded in attracting large-scale foreign investment in both the mining and agricultural sectors. However, some of the deals have attracted criticism for failing to conform to Sierra Leone's laws, and the president faces broader criticism for his failure to fight graft.

His government forced out Abdul Tejan-Cole, the crackerjack head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, and later pushed the UN to withdraw their outspoken Freetown envoy Michael von der Schulenburg. Most recently Koroma retained as his running mate Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana, despite the VP's alleged involvement in a series of graft scandals.

Koroma is married with two children.

JULIUS MAADA BIO, SIERRA LEONE PEOPLE'S PARTY

Bio, 48, won the 'flagbearership' of the SLPP on 31 July 2011, defeating Usman Boie Kamara, a former mines ministry official. The SLPP's base is the Mende tribe of south and eastern Sierra Leone.

Bio's involvement in politics began on April 29 1992 when he was part of a group of junior army officers who staged a coup to oust President Joseph Saidu Momoh. The resulting junta, dubbed the 'National Provisional Ruling Council', held power for four years. On January 16 1996 Bio deposed NPRC leader Valentine Strasser in another coup.

Bio's subsequent brief stint as head of state is a contentious part of his past. Today he claims he gladly relinquished power after a few months to make way for elections and the end of military rule. His opponents claim the junta was determined to hang onto power - using force if necessary - and only substantial pressure forced his departure.

After his stint as head of state, Bio studied international affairs at American University in Washington, DC.

Bio returned to Sierra Leone in 2003 and in 2005 ran unsuccessfully for the SLPP flagbearership. As the party's current presidential candidate, Bio has said if elected he will focus on developing Sierra Leone's human capital through education. He has also promised to review all minerals deals and the mining code.

By contrast his opponents have focused on his wartime human rights record - in particular the execution of 29 people by the NPRC on a beach in Freetown in December 1992 and violence in the run up to the 1996 election. Bio says he has no blood on his hands. He is married With four children. (Reporting by Simon Akam; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Keiron Henderson)

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