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Guinea sets runoff date amid threat of boycott

By Joe Penney, For CNN

Conakry, Guinea (CNN) -- Guinea has decreed a new date, October 24, for its long-awaited presidential runoff election, despite a threat by one of the candidates to boycott the runoff if the recently appointed leader of the nation's election commission is not removed.

The decree -- signed by the military junta leader and transitional president, General Sekouba Konate, and read Tuesday night by the director of state TV Mohamed Kasse -- came after an initial date of September 19 was postponed because of technical problems and political infighting within the electoral organizing body.

The election is a runoff between two candidates, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Alpha Conde. Diallo won 44 percent of the first round, held June 27, while Conde polled second with roughly 18 percent.

"After a proposal from the CENI [National Independent Electoral Commission], the president of the republic decrees that voters are called to convene on Sunday, October 24 for the second round of the presidential election. The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Kasse said.

But a dispute over the head of the CENI still stands in the way of the West African republic's first free and fair presidential poll in its 52-year history.

Diallo's campaign has accused commission President Louseny Camara of fixing results for Conde in the first round, in which he served as a polling administrator in the interior of the country, and called for his removal. Camara has denied the allegations.

The presidential decree did not mention the controversial electoral chief.

We have a date, that is a very good thing, but we also think there is a problem that has not yet been resolved ... we will not go to elections with Louseny Camara as the head of the CENI," Souleyman Bah, spokesman for Diallo's campaign told CNN.

Conde's campaign welcomed the new date without hesitation.

"If everything is done according to the schedule that was given to us, we believe that this date could be very good for the second round," Moustapha Naite, a spokesman for Conde's campaign, told CNN.

Campaigning, which was suspended in the wake of violence between supporters of Conde and Diallo that killed one and injured 51 last month, has yet to be resumed.

"The date has been set, so normally there should be a decree for campaigning to start again," Naite said.

The decree was prefaced by the appearance on state TV of Konate's chief-of-staff, Tibou Kamara, who called on Guineans to trust their commander-in-chief amid worries that the army does not want to leave power.

"I implore Guineans to have faith in General Sekouba Konate, who is not fond of the solitude of power and the ingratitude of the functions of the head of state, but who is destined to follow through on this historical task for Guinea," Camara said.

Guinea has been ruled by a military junta since the death of Lansana Conte in December 2008 ended his 24-year grip on power. Last September, security forces killed more than 150 peaceful protesters and raped dozens more during a rally against military rule, according to rights groups and the U.S. government.

Despite its reserves of gold, diamonds and bauxite -- the main ore of aluminum -- Guinea's 10 million people have a per capita GDP of just US $1,000, according to CIA data.