Election authorities in Liberia have begun releasing returns from the country's first post-war election, in which large numbers turned out to elect a new president and parliament.

With ballots from about one percent of the polling stations counted, former World Bank economist Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has 24 percent of the vote. Soccer (football) star George Weah, one of her opponents in the presidential race, has 21 percent.

The head of Liberia's National Elections Commission, Frances Johnson Morris, says it could take three to seven days of vote counting before the new leader is known.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the U.S. ambassador to Liberia, Donald Booth, have praised Liberians for conducting a peaceful and orderly election.

Liberia's vote is seen as a step toward restoring stability to a country beset by war and corruption.