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CAR Vote Counting Tightens Amid Fraud Allegations

The former coup leader in the Central African Republic Francois Bozize maintains a strong lead in vote counting from the March 13 presidential election, but he may now face a second round run-off against a united and angry opposition.

With over two-thirds of votes counted, Mr. Bozize has slipped below the fifty percent mark to win an outright first round victory. According to partial tallies from the national electoral commission reported on Wednesday, he now has less than 44 percent of the vote.

Far behind him in second place is former Prime Minister Martin Ziguele ahead of nine other challengers, but he could now garner their support in a possible second round run-off.

Still, the opposition says the voting and vote counting have been marred with fraud.

They say the military handed out fake voting cards on voting day to foreigners in the capital Bangui and that in eastern areas stole ballot boxes and counted the votes themselves. At some polling stations, they say Mr. Bozize received more votes than the number of registered voters.

At the headquarters of Mr. Ziguele, his supporters mill around, talking about the vote counting that is keeping everyone on high alert.

One of them, Blanche Dakobo, says despite obvious cheating, she still has confidence her candidate will prevail.

"For the presidential election, I'm sure that Martin Ziguele will win one day, and I have this dream and it will be fulfilled," she said. "The elections will show who is the president, who will be democratically elected."

Mr. Ziguele has the support of most of the north and also of the former ruling party of twice-elected deposed President Ange-Felix Patasse, who was barred from running.

A campaign organizer for another former prime minister, Jean-Paul Ngoupande, Faustin Bambou, says voters who came out massively to vote on March 13 and the opposition won't allow fraud to dictate final results.

"Electors have known this manner to do but with the organization of all different candidates [who] are going to organize against Mr. Bozize, Mr. Bozize won't succeed in stealing this vote," said Mr. Bambou.

No date has been set for a second round if it's needed.

Late Tuesday, a fire fight erupted near the eastern Bangui residence of the candidate currently in third place, former military ruler Andre Kolingba.

His aides said it was an apparent assassination attempt by Mr. Bozize's Republican Guard, but witnesses said it appeared to be a misunderstanding involving military assigned to protect Mr. Kolingba.

Mr. Bozize took power in a coup in March 2003, and at first, said he would only serve as transitional leader, but then changed his mind, saying his work to improve the resource-rich but impoverished and strife-torn Central African Republic was only just beginning.