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Nigerians await final tally in bitter presidential vote

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ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The second day of vote counting in Nigeria’s bitterly contested presidential vote started late on Tuesday and electoral officials hope to announce later in the day who will govern Africa’s richest and biggest nation.

Early returns from half the states have President Goodluck Jonathan winning nine states and the Federal Capital Territory and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari winning nine states. But Buhari won 8.5 million votes to Jonathan’s 6.48 million. A candidate must take at least 50 percent of all votes and at least 25 percent of votes in two-thirds of the states to win.

About a dozen of the 18 remaining states still have to send results to the counting center in Abuja. Final results are hoped for by the end of the day but results from only a few of the remaining states have been delivered, electoral commission spokesman Kayode Idowu told The Associated Press.

It’s the first time in Nigeria’s history that a challenger has a real chance of defeating a sitting president. This is only the eighth election since independence from Britain in 1960.

Buhari swept the northern states of Kano and Kaduna, as expected, but margin of his victory was unexpected. In Kano, the state with the second-largest number of voters, Buhari won 1.9 million votes to Jonathan’s 216,000. In Kaduna, Buhari won 1.1 million votes to Jonathan’s 484,000.

The count in Abuja is being carried out in the presence of party representatives, national and international observers and media. The counting has started late on both Monday and Tuesday, with no explanations given for the delays.

The U.S. and Britain on Monday warned of “disturbing indications” that the tally could be subject to political interference. In a joint statement the two countries said they would be “very concerned” by any attempts to undermine the independence of the electoral commission and distort the will of the Nigerian people.

“So far, we have seen no evidence of systemic manipulation of the process. But there are disturbing indications that the collation process — where the votes are finally counted — may be subject to deliberate political interference,” said the statement, signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his British counterpart, Philip Hammond.

Jonathan’s party called the suggestions “absolute balderdash” and demanded evidence. Campaign spokesman Femi Fani-Kayode told foreign reporters that they “completely reject the assertion or the notion that we are in any way interfering” with the electoral commission.

“I will challenge John Kerry or any other foreign official to provide the evidence,” he said.

Widespread rigging has occurred in many previous elections, along with violence after those votes. New biometric cards aimed at stemming fraud were used but some newly imported card readers were not working properly, and voting was extended to Sunday in 300 out of 150,000 polling stations where that problem occurred, the election commission said.

Turnout was high Saturday among the nearly 60 million people eligible to vote in the high-stakes election, which took place despite a campaign of violence by the Islamic extremists of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.


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