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Johnson-Sirleaf Close to Victory; Weah Complains in Liberia Election Count

Former Liberian finance minister Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf says she is confident of victory as nearly complete results indicate an easy win for her in this week's run-off presidential election. But the party of her opponent, former soccer great George Weah, is filing complaints of fraud with election authorities.

With votes counted from more than 90 percent of polling centers, Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf has 59 percent of the vote, while Mr. Weah has just below 41 percent.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf says she is ready to begin preparations to form an inclusive government, while her party, the Unity Party, credits her wide lead to solid grass-roots, door to door campaigning.

The Harvard-trained economist could become Africa's first female elected head of state.

Even as they announce progressive results, electoral officials are looking into two complaints alleging instances of fraud filed by Mr. Weah's party, known as the CDC. Their candidate, the first round first place finisher, but a distant second in this second round, met Thursday with top U.N. and foreign officials in Monrovia to plead his case.

They urged him to follow a legal course, and appeal for calm amid his angry supporters, who believe he has been cheated.

International observers, like David Carroll from the U.S.-based Carter Center, said there were what he called minor procedural problems on voting day Tuesday, but nothing major. "None of our observers saw any ballot box stuffing. I can tell you that with certainty. What were basically referencing here are relatively minor inconsistencies in the application of procedures and other minor irregularities. Now that doesn't rule out the fact that we are aware one party has filed complaints and they may file more but from what we were directly able to observe nothing is that we would describe or conclude as serious irregularities," he said.

The chief observer of the European Union delegation, Max van den Berg agreed and urged Mr. Weah, a former world footballer of the year, to play by the rules. "We came to a positive conclusion. If CDC has the feeling that in certain places this was not true or they've seen different things, its their full right. We will look into it. Lets play a fair game. And I would say if you want to win the game it has to be in the field because there you can score in the time available," he said.

All complaints must be filed by Friday. If considered, these must be resolved within seven days. If rejected, appeals can be made to Liberia's Supreme Court.

Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf has advised her party militants to remain discrete, not to provoke Mr. Weah's ardent supporters. Nigerian peacekeepers in Monrovia are preventing several hundred of them at his party's headquarters from spilling out onto the streets.

Many of them say they are former combatants in Liberia's 14-year civil war, and that the election process must be free and fair, or else, they warn, they could turn to violence.