- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

ACCRA, Ghana Sporadic clashes and charges of intimidation marred Ghana's presidential runoff election, contrasting sharply with the orderly vote held early this month.

Protesters charged a polling station in Accra's residential Odorkor neighborhood shortly after voting started, smashing the ballot box and tearing up the voters' list, security officials said. It was not immediately clear who the attackers were.

Details were sketchy, but witnesses said gunshots were fired near another polling station in the same neighborhood during a scuffle between soldiers and opposition officials.

The only two candidates in the runoff were John Agyekum Kufuor, 62, of the opposition Democratic Patriotic Party, and Vice President John Atta Mills, of the National Democratic Congress. The election will bring an end to the two-decade stewardship of President Jerry Rawlings.

Ghana, the first black African nation to shake its colonial bonds in 1957, began with a dream by its founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, to build a United States of Africa.

But it quickly degenerated into a series of military coups. The charismatic Mr. Rawlings began his career with two of his own, then built a multiparty state, winning two elections in 1992 and 1996 in the process. He also turned from a flirtation with socialism to free market reforms.

But Mr. Kufuor has charged that the Rawlings era is pockmarked with bribery and corruption, as well as election fraud.

Mr. Kufuor appeared to be running ahead in the capital, Accra, while Mr. Mills appeared to be leading in the eastern Volta region. Final results were not expected for about 72 hours.

Mr. Kufuor campaigned on a platform of positive change after the long stewardship of Mr. Rawlings, a flight lieutenant who began his ruling career in the 1970s with two coups, then followed with two landslide elections, economic reforms and a Western orientation.

Mr. Mills, the hand-picked successor of Mr. Rawlings, asked the voters to choose continued stability.

Mr. Kufuor won the first round three weeks ago with 48.17 percent while Mr. Mills polled 44.54 percent.

Following the turmoil yesterday, Mr. Kufuor's party and allied groups fired off a protest to the electoral commissioner, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan.

"The NDC, having clearly lost the confidence of the good people of Ghana, have resorted to every foul means to prevent the choice of the people from assuming the presidency of the nation," said a statement issued by Mr. Kufuor's campaign manager, Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey.

"There are ominous signs that the master coup maker, Rawlings, is in full control. Guns have been fired; people have been brutalized, threatened and made to disperse, some never to come back," said the statement which was issued on behalf of the NPP and five other parties that supported Mr. Kufuor in the run-up.

However, Minister of Education Ekwow Spio Garbrah, who coordinated the Mills campaign, has dismissed the incidents as isolated and the result of the transmission of unverified incidents by radio stations. The most serious of the incidents was the close call of a member of parliament, Kwamena Bartels, when he was attacked by armed men from the special presidential guard, commonly known as the commandos.

He suffered serious injuries from a bayonet, while two teen-agers caught in the crossfire are hospitalized with gunshot wounds.

The Volta region, stronghold of the ruling NDC, has been declared a no-go zone for NPP polling agents who were reported to have have been assaulted, shot and driven away from the polling stations.

NPP General Secretary Dan Botwe said these were not a set of isolated incidents.

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