Passions boil over in Miami-Dade

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The Independent US

Police formed a protective ring around a Democrat lawyer when he was threatened by a throng of furious Republicans inside the county government building in downtown Miami, one venue for the ballot hand- counts in Florida that may finally determine who will be the next United States president.

Police formed a protective ring around a Democrat lawyer when he was threatened by a throng of furious Republicans inside the county government building in downtown Miami, one venue for the ballot hand- counts in Florida that may finally determine who will be the next United States president.

Passions suddenly spilt over in the lobby of the building when the county canvassing board, made up only of Democrats, switched tactics yesterday, saying they would only hand-count 10,600 ballots that had not been read properly by tabulation machines. Republicans responded with a noisy protest and sit-in in the lobby of the county elections division. "Let us see the ballots," they shouted, and "Bush won twice," a reference to election day totals and a recount conducted in the first few days after 7 November.

Several hours later, the board members reversed themselves again, saying there would be no manual count at all in the county because it could not be done by a final deadline of 5pm on Sunday.

The political deadlock in Florida has not produced phsysical violence yet, but yesterday morning's fracas came close to it. Most at risk was the lawyer, Joe Geller.

Republicans formed a scrum around him in a narrow corridor, accusing him of walking out of the counting room with a ballot in his back pocket.

More than a dozen police had to save Mr Geller. He said later he had a "training ballot" used to show people how to count votes. He said: "I wouldn't have taken something from elections officials that I wasn't supposed to have in front of a room full of screaming Republicans."

Fuelling the anger of Republicans was another decision by the canvassing board: to move the counting operation to a smaller room on a different floor, drastically reducing the number of observers to the count from both parties. The board later relented.

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