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Ghana counts votes in tight race

ACCRA, Jan 3 – Votes were being counted on Friday after the decisive last leg of a tight presidential race – a poll in a remote rural district that was boycotted by ruling party supporters.

"They have finished the election in Tain and they are beginning to count the votes," a spokesman for a local observer coalition CODEO, Theodore Dzeble said.

The constituency was the last of 230 nationwide to vote, after problems with distributing ballot papers halted participation in Sunday’s run-off poll.

Outgoing President John Kufuor – one of Africa’s most respected leaders who is stepping down after his maximum two terms in office – called on all sides to respect the outcome of the election.

Hours after Kufuor’s address to the nation state radio announced that the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) had withdrawn the legal challenges to the presidential poll that it filed before the Accra High court Thursday, even though it reportedly lodged complaints to the electoral commission.

In what appeared to be an indirect reproach of his own party’s legal manoeuvres, Kufuor on Friday underlined the importance of meeting the constitutional timetable for the handover of power on January 7.

"I therefore urge all stakeholders to yield to the authority of the electoral commissioner when he declares the results," Kufuor said.

"Any outstanding issues may be settled later by due process," he added, referring to claims and counter-claims of electoral irregularities.

Kufuor also appealed for calm until the results were announced.

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Electoral commission chief Kwado Afari-Gyan said earlier he would release the results from Tain, a western district bordering Ivory Coast, as soon as they came in.

Officials said Afari-Gyan would likely announce the results on Saturday.

The vote went ahead and was described as calm but ruling party agents were not seen in polling stations and NPP press secretary Adu Kwabena-Essem confirmed to AFP that the party had boycotted the election.

A coalition of domestic election observers, CODEO, said in a statement that NPP supporters had for the most part stuck to the party line and not turned out to vote.

The coalition said it was worried that tensions could rise in Tain, "leading to clashes."

Local journalists said opposition NDC reporters started pulling on white campaign T-shirts in anticipation of victory once voting closed.

CODEO spoke of busloads of NPP supporters driving around chanting.

"Already there are indications the election in Tain will not lessen the anxieties, tensions and frustrations that have been expressed since December 28," Ghana’s religious leaders said in a joint statement sent to AFP.

Depending on turnout, the 50,000 registered voters in Tain, the last constituency to vote, could prove decisive in determining the next leader of this country, seen as a model of democracy in volatile west Africa.

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Partial results so far have shown opposition presidential candidate John Atta-Mills holding a lead of around 23,000 votes over his NPP rival Nana Akufo-Addo.

Akufo-Addo won the first round of voting on December 7, but not with enough votes to make him the outright winner.

Stakes have been high in the race to choose the man who will be governing the former British colony, known as the Gold Coast before independence in 1957, when it starts pumping oil in 2010.

The election is the country’s fifth since the return to multi-party democracy in 1992.

Both parties have alleged voting irregularities in each other’s strongholds.

Akufo-Addo said on Friday the NPP has formally lodged its complaints with the country’s electoral commission.

"The evidence is before the electoral commission, so let’s wait until tomorrow when the EC will communicate its decision," he told the restive activists as he emerged from a closed door meeting of the party’s executive.


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