With incumbent Ernest Bai Koroma standing down after two terms, his All Peoples Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara was just leading Julius Maada Bio of the main opposition Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP), based on 25% of returns from the National Electoral Commission (NEC).

The NEC gave former foreign minister Kamara a near 45% share of the vote so far against 42% for former general Bio in Wednesday's poll.

The early results triggered unrest as supporters of the two main parties clashed in the capital's central business district, leading police to make several arrests.

"Just after the announcement of the results by NEC people started to celebrate, which angered other onlookers," trader Abubakar Sesay told AFP.

"I was forced to close my business as everyone was running from the scene. Many shops closed due to the panic," Sesay said, adding that he witnessed stone-throwing.

Kandeh Yumkella, a former high-ranked member of the SLPP now standing for a National Grand Coalition (NGC), was in third place with 6.6%  according to the early figures.

The share of his votes in the runoff could prove decisive in determining the eventual winner in the West African country where corruption is rife.

Meanwhile, European Union observers on Friday described the election as "transparent, credible and well-organised," but noted sporadic "intimidation and violence," concerns echoed by the Freetown-based Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI).

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