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Romanian Election Officials Spurn Call for Rerun of Sunday's Vote

In Romania, the Central Electoral Bureau has turned down a demand by the country's main opposition leader that Sunday's first round of presidential and parliamentary elections be annulled because of alleged fraud. The opposition leader, Traian Basescu, has accused the ruling party of having its supporters vote several times. The crisis threatens to plunge Romania into a period of uncertainty, as it prepares for difficult negotiations with the European Union.

Romania's opposition has expressed serious doubts about official results showing a victory for the ruling former-Communists in Sunday's voting for a new parliament and president.

The Central Electoral Bureau says Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's Social Democratic Party is ahead with 36 percent of the vote, five percent more than the opposition Justice and Truth Alliance, a grouping of liberal and centrist parties.

Election officials say that with most votes counted, Mr. Nastase also won the presidential election with roughly 41 percent of the vote, while his main rival, Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, got about 34 percent.

Because neither of the two candidates received the required minimum of 50 percent, a run-off presidential ballot is to be held on December 12.

"I am confident I'll win from the first round [of Presidential elections]," said Mr. Basescu, a colorful 53-year-old former seaman, who sees the outcome differently.

Mr. Basescu has demanded that the Central Electoral Bureau resign, amid what his Justice and Truth Alliance calls widespread fraud, a concern shared by foreign diplomats and election observers.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has said that while the voting process was generally "professional and efficiently organized," the authorities should investigate Romanian observers' reports of individual voters casting several ballots in several parts of the country.

But the government has denied opposition charges that it was involved in transporting supporters to multiple polling stations.

Mr. Nastase tells reporters he is confident of victory.

"There is so much to be done, but we are confident that for the first time in Central and Eastern Europe, an incumbent party of the government in power, has for the second time the confidence of the population," said Mr. Nastase.

Analysts say the ruling party has been praised for economic growth and was winning more votes in the impoverished countryside, while the alliance, seen as more pro-business, was supported by the emerging middle class, wanting action against corruption.

As neither of the two groups has a parliamentary majority, one of them will have to cooperate with smaller groups, including the party representing Romania's up to two million ethnic Hungarians.

The other smaller party that cleared the five percent threshold to enter parliament is the far-right nationalist Greater Romania Party, which scored about 13 percent. However politicians are reluctant to cooperate with that party, as the West has criticized its rhetoric against Jews, Hungarians, Gypsies and other minorities.

The political tensions come at a difficult moment for Romania, as it prepares for negotiations on membership in the European Union. The EU has already criticized Romania for corruption, human rights violations and a perceived lack of press freedom.

Romania's new president will take over from Ion Iliescu, who is stepping down after leading Romania for 11 of the 15 often turbulent years since the communist dictatorship was overthrown in a bloody revolution.