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Middle East

Maliki supporters disrupt poll recount

Iraqi election officials argued publicly with supporters of the Prime Minister who demanded a halt to a partial recount of votes just as the process got under way yesterday, a sign of tensions over the measure that could change the outcome of the closely fought contest.

The recount of 2.5 million votes cast on 7 March in Baghdad was ordered at the request of the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia, who narrowly lost to the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who has heavy Sunni support. It has further delayed the formation of a government, which some fear will lead to an increase in violence just as US troops prepare to leave. Mr Maliki demanded recounts in five provinces and got one in Baghdad, which started yesterday. But about an hour after it began, representatives of his State of Law coalition arrived at the Rasheed Hotel in the walled-off Green Zone where the recount was in progress and demanded publicly at a news conference that it be halted.

The coalition complained the commission was not conducting the recount properly by not reopening voter records and checking voter signatures against ballots. The Oil Minister Hussain al-Shahristani also charged that election commission officials had manipulated the votes and demanded they be held accountable.

Election officials dismissed the charge and the recount continued. Initial results gave Mr Maliki 89 of 325 seats, with Mr Allawi on 91.