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As Ghana counts votes, opposition charges rigging

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ACCRA, Ghana (AP) — In Ghana’s tight presidential election race, official results have not yet been announced but local media have tipped President John Dramani Mahama as the winner while the party of opposition candidate Nana Akufo-Addo accuses vote rigging.

Scores of supporters of the opposition New Patriotic Party protested alleged voting fraud by taking to Accra’s streets, carrying twigs and singing. Riot police and military personnel came out to maintain order.

The opposition party said there was a conspiracy to “falsify the election results.”

“Considering the closeness of the polls this error is very significant and goes to the heart of the credibility of the results. Indeed, we have enough concrete evidence to show that the 2012 presidential election was won by our candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo,” said Jake Obetsebi-Lamptey, chairman of the party.

The party called on the national electoral body to carry out an audit, and asked to withhold final results until an investigation is completed.

Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, the Chairman of Ghana’s electoral commission, said he had not heard of the opposition party’s accusations, when reached by The Associated Press.

People in Ghana’s capital have been glued to their radios since Friday night as local media announce results from polling stations. One private radio station has already predicted a win for Mahama, and people have celebrated in the streets, but official results could be days away.

International observers endorsed Ghana’s presidential and parliamentary elections despite delays at polling stations that pushed voting into a second day Saturday.

A delegation of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) Saturday declared the election to be free and fair. “There were hiccups but not such that would grossly undermine the result of the election,” leader of the delegation and former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo said.

“All of Africa was looking at Ghana to make sure that they live up to their reputation and their name of being a mature democracy,” said Ahmed Issak Hassan, head of an observer mission from the South Africa-based Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.

On Friday ballot materials arrived hours late to polling stations and many of the biometric voter verification machines broke down, causing long delays.

Ghana, a nation of 25 million, was once a troubled nation that suffered five coups and decades of stagnation, before turning a corner in the 1990s. It is now a pacesetter for the continent’s efforts to become democratic. No other West African country has had so many elections deemed free and fair, a reputation that voters hold close to their hearts.

The incumbent Mahama, a former vice president, was catapulted into office in July after the unexpected death of President John Atta Mills. Before becoming vice president in 2009, the 54-year-old Mahama served as a minister and a member of parliament. He’s also written an acclaimed biography, recalling Ghana’s troubled past, called “My First Coup d’Etat.”

Akufo-Addo is a former foreign minister and the son of one of Ghana’s previous presidents. In 2008, Akufo-Addo lost the last presidential election to Mills by less than 1 percent during a runoff vote. Both candidates are trying to make the case that they will use the nation’s oil riches to help the poor.

Besides being one of the few established democracies in the region, Ghana also has the fastest-growing economy. Oil was discovered in 2007 and the country began producing it in December 2010. But a deep divide still exists between those benefiting from the country’s oil, cocoa and mineral wealth and those left behind financially.

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