Calls for recount over Iraq election

Iraq's president has called for a recount in this month's parliamentary elections.

The polls have turned into a tight race between the prime minister and a secular rival amid accusations of fraud.

The demand from President Jalal Talabani came a day after Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki appeared to back the idea.

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The demands are the latest twist to an election that will determine who will govern the country as US troops go home.

Counting since the March 7 vote has been slow and plagued with confusion and disarray, fuelling claims of fraud, though international observers say the vote and count have been fair.

Mr Talabani demanded an immediate recount to "preclude any doubt and misunderstanding" in the results.

Mr al-Maliki, whose bloc is among those seeking a recount, issued a statement on Saturday calling on the election commission to "respond urgently to these demands in order to preserve the political stability and avoid the deterioration of security ... and a return to violence."

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It remained unclear what the demands by Mr Talabani and Mr al-Maliki would produce, since the Electoral Commission is an independent body. Election results also have to be certified by the Supreme Court.

The latest partial results, released yesterday, showed Mr al-Maliki's secular Shiite challenger, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, leading by a slim margin.

However, Mr al-Maliki is winning in seven of Iraq's 18 provinces, which is significant because parliament seats are allotted based on the outcome of voting in each province.

Both Mr Allawi's Iraqiya List and Mr al-Maliki's State of Law coalition have alleged fraud.

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Maysoun al-Damlouji, a spokeswoman for Mr Allawi's bloc, said neither Mr al-Maliki nor Mr Talabani have the authority to order a recount.

She urged the prime minister "not to use his influence to change" the election results.

The calls for a recount appear to be stirring tensions. In the city of Najaf in Iraq's Shiite-dominated south, hundreds of residents protested outside the local government office.