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Preliminary Results: Opposition Wins Maldives' Presidential Race

Preliminary results show a former political prisoner has won Maldives' first democratic presidential election.

With the majority of votes counted in Tuesday's run-off vote, election commission officials Wednesday said Mohamed Nasheed has an eight-percent lead over Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed had 54 percent of 209,000 votes, compared to Mr. Gayoom's 46 percent. The final vote count will be announced in the coming days.

President Gayoom is Asia's longest serving ruler, leading Maldives for 30 years.

The October 8 presidential election and Tuesday's run-off vote were part of several political reforms promised by Mr. Gayoom due to international pressure following the 2004 government crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The president's supporters say he has transformed the Maldives into one of Asia's top tourist destinations. But opponents call him a dictator. Mr. Gayoom has pledged to hand over power peacefully, if he loses.

There were no reports of violence in Tuesday's run-off election, but voters lodged several complaints and said some people used the names of dead relatives to vote.

The international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said the election was marred by state media bias in favor of President Gayoom.

The Maldives is made up of about 1,200 islands in the Indian Ocean southwest of Sri Lanka. The mainly Sunni Muslim nation is home to about 350,000 people.

The country faces problems of high child malnutrition, growing drug use, and corruption.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.