Liberia's Sirleaf offers hand to rivals after vote win

MONROVIA Fri Nov 11, 2011 2:43pm EST

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MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf promised to involve opponents in her second term after winning a landslide victory in an election boycotted by her main rival over fraud allegations.

Nobel Peace laureate Johnson-Sirleaf won 90.6 percent of votes according to tallies returned from nearly 98 percent of the country's polling stations by Friday. Full results are not due to be confirmed until early next week.

Her victory was tainted by a low turnout for Tuesday's poll, which highlighted simmering tensions in the West African country instead of solidifying the fragile gains made since 14 years of civil war ended in 2003.

"I will reach out to all the presidential candidates. What I will offer them is not yet known," Johnson-Sirleaf told reporters late on Thursday.

At least two people were killed as authorities broke up an opposition protest on the eve of the election and supporters of her main challenger, former U.N. diplomat Winston Tubman, have said they do not recognize Johnson-Sirleaf's win.

Her Unity Party's failure to win a majority in parliament elections held last month may push her to seek allies, although she has not specified whether that will run to government posts for Tubman or other opposition leaders.

"I don't think it (the low turnout) does any damage to my credibility ... (but) it did undermine the country's victory," Johnson-Sirleaf told Reuters in an interview.

"My task initially will be a bit harder because I now have to reach out to many of those who, particularly young people, may feel disaffected and may feel marginalized. But I intend to do that," she pledged.

Asked if she could offer Tubman a government post, she replied: "He has to first accept the election results. Then we go from there."

Stability in Liberia is a vital piece in the overall security make-up of West Africa, a region trying to move on from decades of civil wars and coups in countries such as Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Tubman, who was a senior aide to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, won 9.4 percent of the votes. His name was left on ballot slips despite his decision to withdraw from the run-off, alleging irregularities in the first round of voting.

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Provisional turnout for the run-off was just 38 percent, barely half the first-round figure when excited Liberians queued in the rain to cast their ballot.

International election observers say voting has been broadly fair, but the violence and the low turnout has prompted calls for Johnson-Sirleaf to do more to heal divisions.

Tubman alleges that authorities made an attempt on his life as they broke up Monday's opposition rally -- an accusation the government strenuously denies -- and said ahead of the results that any form of power-sharing accord was unlikely.

Johnson-Sirleaf has ordered an independent inquiry into Monday's violence.

Critics say Johnson-Sirleaf, while at least keeping Liberia on an even keel after a war that claimed nearly a quarter million lives, has not done enough to spur development in a country where average income is less than a dollar a day.

Liberia is hoping iron ore resources being mined by groups such as ArcelorMittal will boost reconstruction. However it received a blow to its hopes of a future oil bonanza this week as tests at its offshore Montserrado well failed to hit oil in commercial quantities.

(Additional reporting by Clair MacDougall in Monrovia; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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