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US Urges Transparent Investigation of Uganda Election Complaints

The United States is calling for a transparent investigation of opposition charges of fraud in Uganda's presidential election. Partial returns from Friday's voting give incumbent President Yoweri Museveni an apparently insurmountable lead.

In its initial reading on the Ugandan vote, the State Department has stopped short of declaring outright that the election was free and fair.

But it says the voting, the African country's first multi-party election in a quarter-century, was peaceful, and that claims of irregularities were limited.

Briefing reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli said the fraud charges need to be investigated if the election outcome is to be credible.

"Observer reports indicate no incidents of violence during the elections," he said. "There have been reports of administrative and procedural irregularities by observers, as well as other claims of irregularities by the opposition. Those claims need to be investigated. They need to be investigated and reported on in a transparent manner so that the final results are seen as credible by all Ugandans.

The U.S. assessment, based on reporting from American diplomats in Kampala, was similar to that of a European Union observer mission.

The EU team said the polling process was relatively well-administered and policed, though there were a number of technical shortcomings including unsealed ballot boxes and lax scrutiny of persons who may have tried to vote more than once.

However the EU mission faulted campaign conditions, in which it said President Museveni's ruling party was able to dominate the state-run media and used state resources for electioneering.

It also said consideration should be given to reinstating a law limiting the country's president to two terms.

The Ugandan constitution was altered last year to allow Mr. Museveni, who has led the country for 20 years, to run for re-election as many times as he wishes.

Local Ugandan observers also monitored the election and complained that a large number of would-be voters were turned away from the polls because of faulty registration lists.

Partial returns released Friday showed Mr. Museveni with a two-to-one margin over his main challenger, opposition leader Kizza Besigye. A candidate needs more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off.

In his remarks, Spokesman Ereli noted that the United States had earlier expressed concern and disappointment about incidents of violence that marred the campaign period.

He also recalled that the State Department had condemned the treason and other criminal charges lodged against Bisegye and more than 20 of his supporters last November.

The opposition leader had been forced to wage his campaign in between court appearances and time in jail.

Ugandan voters also elected 284 members of parliament. Final official results are expected Saturday.