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Guinea-Bissau votes in presidential election

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Voting is under way in the instability-probe West African nation Guinea-Bissau to elect a new president after Malam Bacai Sanha died two years into his term.

Nearly 600,000 people are registered to vote in Sunday's election, which features a crowded field of nine candidates including former president Kumba Yala, who was overthrown in a 2003 coup.

In Numbers
- Population: 1.6m
- Registered voters: 600,000
- GDP per capita: $1,100
- Life expectancy at birth: 48.1 years

The vote follows Sanha's death in January and comes just two years after the late president's election in an emergency ballot after Joao Bernando Vieira, his predecessor and the country's dominant political figure, was gunned down inside his home.

Rather than bringing stability, the 64-year-old had spent much of his presidency shuttling between hospitals in Europe and Africa, for what his aides described as "routine checkups''.

Five of the nine candidates running for office this time around also ran in 2009. Even their campaign posters and slogans are largely recycled. As well as Yala, the frontrunners also include Carlos Gomes Jr, a former prime minister.

"For us, it's really a case of history repeating itself,'" said Guinea Bissau-based political analyst Rui Landim.

"We have little hope that anything will change. You can see it in the campaign. There's very little enthusiasm. At the rallies, there are very few people. ... It's a race between the people already in power,'' he said.

Cocaine trade

Guinea-Bissau gained independence from Portugal in 1974 after an 11-year conflict, but since then its history has been punctuated by unrest, with three presidents toppled in coups and another, Vieira, who was president for almost two decades in three spells in power, assassinated in 2009.

Besides political upheaval, Guinea-Bissau has been destabilised by a booming cocaine trade, which has turned its islands into vital staging posts between South America and Europe for Latin American drug cartels.

In 2010, the US Department of the Treasury declared two high-ranking members of the country's military as drug kingpins, freezing any assets they might have had in the United States.


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