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Ruling Party Takes Lead in Zambia Election

Acting president Rupiah Banda has taken a slim lead in Zambia's presidential election. Officials say Mr. Banda leads opposition leader Michael Sata by just 27-hundred votes with results in from all but two of Zambia's 150 constituencies. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from our bureau in Dakar.

Acting President Rupiah Banda edged into a narrow lead Saturday night as late election results came in from rural areas where his support is greatest.

Veteran opposition leader Michael Sata had jumped to an early lead Friday as initial returns came in from his strongholds in urban areas and Zambia's mining zones.

The spokesman for Sata's Patriotic Front party, Given Lubinda, Saturday night said the party wanted a recount because it had evidence the poll was rigged. "We do not and will not accept the election results that are being announced by the Electoral Commission of Zambia," he said.

He said the party would seek legal redress through the Zambian courts.

Sata earlier Friday night had asked election officials to refrain from releasing additional results and to investigate alleged irregularities.

But monitors from the Southern African Economic Community declared the elections free and transparent.

The head of an observer group from the Electoral Institute for Southern Africa, Leshele Thoahlane, agreed. "The stations that we went to, people were voting peacefully. We did not see any acts of violence or acts of intimidation," he said.

The elections were called following the death in August of the late President Levy Mwanawasa from a stroke.

Mr. Banda campaigned pledging to continue Mr. Mwanawasa's pro-business and corruption fighting policies. These are credited with taming inflation and bringing five percent annual economic growth.

Sata campaigned on the need for change saying that the economic gains had not reached the poor.

Voter turnout was less than 50 percent. Some observers say this was because of the short time available to prepare voters. Others say it was because the winner will only serve two years, the time remaining in Mr. Mwanawasa's term.