Electoral officials said on Thursday a run-off vote would likely be necessary to decide Liberia's presidential race, as early returns show former soccer star George Weah running neck-and-neck with the country's most popular female politician.
Liberian voters cast ballots on Tuesday for Liberia's first elected president since the end of a 14-year civil war that killed tens of thousands of people.
"The results, although too early, show that it might be difficult for one candidate to obtain the required 50 plus one [percent of the] vote to emerged the elected president," National Electoral Commission Chairman Frances Morris told reporters in the capital, Monrovia.
"So far the leading candidates have been running neck-to-neck," Morris said.
In early returns from Tuesday's vote, Weah and Harvard-educated politician Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf led the field of 22.
But it was expected to be days before the count had progressed enough to indicate a trend. Results must be posted within 15 days, although a final tally is expected earlier.
A second round, if necessary, would be held early next month.
On Thursday, former Liberian rebel leader and presidential candidate Sekou Conneh said that he would accept elections results.
Rebuild the country
"Whatever the results, we will accept it and quickly get together to rebuilt the country," Conneh told reporters in comments addressing concerns that Liberia could be engulfed in violence again despite the gains that made it possible to hold a peaceful vote.
"I am one of the happiest people today," Conneh said.
"The very reason why we took arms was to put democracy back on track in our country and that is what is happening today," he added.
Conneh, a former political leader of the main rebel group that forced warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor from power in 2003, is not considered a serious contender.
Turnout among the 1.3 million registered voters was running at about 70 percent, said Frances Johnson Morris, who chairs the national electoral commission.
The UN special representative for Liberia, Alan Doss, commended "the patience, the determination and the friendliness displayed by all Liberians" during Tuesday's balloting, the West African country's first democratic vote since civil war ended two years ago.
"While we do not know which candidates will be chosen as the newly elected leaders of a democratically elected government of Liberia, we do know that today Liberians voted, cast their ballots for peace and for a new Liberia," Doss said on Wednesday.
Africa's oldest republic
Voters also cast ballots for 30 senators and 64 representatives -- a bicameral system modeled on that of the US.
Freed slaves from the United States were resettled here before they founded Africa's oldest republic in 1847.
Liberia was once among Africa's richest countries, with vast fields of gems and valuable groves of hardwood trees and rubber plants. It has known little but strife since a first coup in 1980.
Years of war ended in 2003 after Taylor stepped down in a rebel invasion of the capital.
A transitional government led by Gyude Bryant has ruled the country since.
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