Liberia election: Large turnout in Sirleaf-Tubman vote

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People wait to vote during the presidential election at a polling station of Allasala Town, Bomi county October 11, 2011Image source, Reuters
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Many Liberians started to queue before dawn

Liberian voters have braved heavy rain to cast their ballots in the country's second election since the end of a 14-year civil war.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 72, is expected to face her strongest challenge from former UN envoy Winston Tubman, a nephew of an ex-president.

Both candidates praised the peaceful and disciplined nature of the vote.

Africa's first elected female head of state was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize last week.

But Mr Tubman, 70, says she has not done enough to tackle corruption.

Mrs Sirleaf won the 2005 election after the conflict ended in 2003.

She defeated former football star George Weah, who is Mr Tubman's running mate this time.

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in the capital, Monrovia, says hundreds of people started queuing to vote before dawn at polling stations in the city centre.

John Plato, 60, waiting for four hours before voting at a school in Monrovia.

"I feel very happy having cast my ballot. These elections are crucial in the eyes of Liberians and the international community and so it was important for me to vote to be part of the history-making process of the country, " he told the AFP news agency.

This is first election the National Elections Commission has organised as the previous one was run by the UN.

President Sirleaf praised the voters for their patience and discipline.

"I feel so good for the Liberian people, they have demonstrated a certain level of political maturity."

Mr Tubman told the BBC that turnout was "huge" - a sentiment backed by former Nigerian head of state Yakubu Gowon, who was observing the the election.

"The rain has not dampened the enthusiasm of the electorate to come and cast their vote," he told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme.

'Abject poverty'

Mrs Sirleaf had said she would only seek a single term but explained her U-turn by saying she wanted to finish the work she had started.

Our correspondent says central Monrovia has been transformed since the end of the war, with roads paved and many new buildings.

While Mrs Sirleaf is well regarded by the international community, some analysts say she is less popular at home and predict a tight race, possibly going to a run-off.

Her 15 challengers accuse her of not doing enough to improve the lives of ordinary people, who remain among the poorest in the world.

"One out of every three Liberians cannot feed themselves. They live in abject poverty. And they couldn't care less about the Nobel prize," said 60-year-old opposition candidate Charles Brumskine.

Mrs Sirleaf has also been criticised for backing former President Charles Taylor - currently on trial at The Hague for alleged war crimes - when he began his rebellion in 1989.

She has apologised and the pair later fell out but Liberia's Truth and Reconciliation Commission said she should be barred from holding public office.

The campaigning was generally peaceful but some 8,000 UN peacekeepers have been deployed across the country to prevent any violence.

Voters were also choosing members of the House of Senate and House of Representatives.

Liberia is Africa's oldest republic - it was founded in 1847 by freed US slaves, hence its name.

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