A campaign poster for retired footballer George Weah, one of 139 candidates in elections to Liberia's Senate
Monrovia (AFP) - Liberians voted Saturday in long-delayed Senate elections in the Ebola-ravaged west African nation as UN chief Ban Ki-moon wound up a regional tour to assess the fight against the epidemic.
In nearby Guinea, where the UN chief staged a one-day Saturday before heading to Mali, violence broke out in southern Kissidougou when hundreds of youngsters went on the rampage against an Ebola health centre set up by Doctors Without Borders (MSF).
Angry youths fearing an outbreak of the disease "ransacked installations, notably MSF tents, set fire to tarpaulins and smashed chairs to chase out the staff," police commissioner Alfred Houlemou told AFP by phone.
In Liberia, the vote for 15 of the 30 seats in the upper house of parliament had been postponed twice already since October as the epidemic swept the impoverished nation.
More than 3,340 people have now died from Ebola in Liberia, making it the country with the highest number of fatalities in the current outbreak, followed by Sierra Leone and Guinea.
The overall death toll in the three countries over the past year has climbed to 7,373, according to the latest World Health Organization tally.
Balloting in Liberia opened at 7:30 am (0730 GMT) and polling stations began closing at 5:00 pm. Some polling stations had opened late in the seaside capital Monrovia and in several locations in the interior of the country.
Football star George Weah -- the former African footballer of the year who played for Chelsea and AC Milan before retiring in 2003 -- and the son of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Robert Sirleaf, are among the 139 candidates in the running for a seat.
Weah, 48, ran unsuccessfully against Johnson Sirleaf for president in the country's 2005 election.
After casting his vote in northern Kendeja, Weah said he was sure of victory.
"I am more than confident that I will win ... My victory was stolen from me in previous presidential elections. This time I will not allow it," he said.
The first provisional results are expected on Sunday.
Monrovia's streets were deserted Saturday although there were long queues outside polling stations. Bars, offices and businesses were closed, an AFP journalist said.
Earlier, Liberia's Deputy Health Minister Tolbert Nyensuah had said all voters would be tested and those with high temperatures asked to cast their ballots in a separate area.
- Voters have to wash hands -
Joey Kennedy, a spokesman for the national election commission, added that all voters had to wash their hands before entering polling stations and maintain at least a metre's distance from each other.
The polls came as neighbouring Sierra Leone issued a clampdown on public gatherings and New Year festivities following a surge in new Ebola infections.
In Guinea, the UN secretary general said the spread of the disease had been "noticeably slowed down" in parts of the country, but that in the south "it is worrying to see that the number of people ill is continuing to rise."
Ban later landed in the Malian capital Bamako for talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar but made no statement after the meeting.
Hoping to blunt criticism the United Nations has come under for an allegedly slow response to the virus, Ban began his tour in Liberia after flying in from Ghana, where the UN Ebola mission is headquartered.
He pledged to help the affected countries rebuild their health systems.
"Today we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that this terrible outbreak can be defeated," Ban had said while touring Liberia.
"The spread of the virus is slowing down in Liberia. Our response strategy is working."
Ban is accompanied by Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization; David Nabarro, the UN coordinator for the fight against Ebola; and Anthony Banbury, the head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response or UNMEER.