MONROVIA Votes were being counted on Wednesday in the run-off of a Liberian presidential election that was meant to shore up peace in the war-scarred state but which instead appears to have deepened divisions.
Presidential challenger Winston Tubman, who boycotted the election over allegations of fraud in the first round, said his supporters and other Liberians would reject any results giving incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf a new term in office.
"We will not accept the result. We told them we were not voting and they went ahead and placed our photos on the ballot papers. Not only (opposition) CDC people boycotted but many Liberians were listening to us," Tubman told Reuters.
Turnout for the November 8 election may have been as low as 25-35 percent, according to observers, as some Liberians stayed away from polling stations fearing violence and others adhered to the opposition call for a boycott.
The National Election Commission said late Tuesday it would begin releasing results from the poll, including turnout figures, Thursday evening.
A spokesman for Johnson-Sirleaf's UP party said turnout may have been further crimped by voter apathy, as Tubman's withdrawal from the contest made the result a near-certain Johnson-Sirleaf victory.
"I would have loved for them to take part, but unfortunately they did not take part," Alphonso Nimley, UP spokesman, said.
Tensions had been high ahead of voting after an opposition march that turned bloody earlier in the week. At least two people were killed when Liberian security forces, backed by U.N. peacekeepers, used live rounds, tear gas grenades, and truncheons to disperse the marchers.
Liberian authorities said they were investigating the incident.
Liberia is one of the world's poorest countries, with over half of its people surviving on under 50 U.S. cents a day. Fourteen years of intermittent fighting that ended in 2003 killed nearly a quarter of a million people and left its infrastructure in ruins.
There had been hopes the election would reflect the country's progress since the fighting ended and pave the way for new investment in its oil and minerals, but fears are growing it could instead open the door to open-ended political turmoil.
Johnson-Sirleaf took nearly 44 percent of the first round vote on October 11. Tubman took roughly 33 percent in the first round but said last week he would withdraw from the race and called for a boycott because of evidence of fraud.
He said he would only be willing to participate in a second round if it were delayed by two to four weeks and counting procedures were amended.
International election observers called the October 11 vote mostly free and fair, and the United States, the United Nations,
regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union have all criticized Tubman's decision to boycott.
Johnson-Sirleaf became Africa's first freely elected female head of state in 2005, and has been praised abroad for reducing the country's debt and maintaining peace. But she faces criticism at home for the slow pace of development.
(Additional reporting by Clair MacDougall; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Andrew Roche)