MONROVIA Liberia's main opposition candidate said he might seek the annulment of a presidential run-off boycotted by his supporters, raising the prospect of confrontation in a country recovering from civil war.
Many Liberians stayed home for Tuesday's vote, either fearful of a repeat of election-related violence earlier this week or obeying a boycott call by Winston Tubman, the main rival to incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Tubman alleged fraud in the first round of voting last month from which Johnson-Sirleaf, a newly-named Nobel peace laureate, emerged with an 11-point lead.
"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, who was a top aide to former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said on Wednesday.
Tubman told Reuters he would consider a legal challenge to annul the results of the second round.
"I think that is a possibility, and could be the most comprehensive way of addressing this conflict," he said.
"I will never call for war on the government. We have been through war that killed 300,000 people. We do not want to go down that path again."
The National Election Commission said it would begin releasing results from the second round late on Thursday.
The election is the first locally organised presidential vote in Liberia since 14 years of fighting that killed nearly a quarter of a million people ended in 2003. The United Nations staged a poll in 2005 which also ended in a dispute.
Liberia wants to use its iron and other resource wealth to rebuild. Critics of Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa's first freely elected female head of state, say progress in her first term was too slow.
British oil firm Tullow Oil, announcing long-awaited results from its offshore Liberian well Montserrado, said on Wednesday that it had found oil there but not in commercial quantities.
As election officials set about counting votes, shops opened and traffic was normal in downtown Monrovia on Wednesday. But there was a sense of unease.
"I feel very bad about the election. I was not satisfied and the CDC will not accept the result," said James Freeman, a 37-year-old CDC supporter.
BOYCOTT CALL CRITICIZED
One organization tracking the vote, the Liberia Democratic Institute, said on Tuesday turnout could have been as low as 25-35 percent, less than half the 71 percent recorded in the first round when Liberians queued in the rain to cast votes.
Such a low turnout could undermine Johnson-Sirleaf's authority during a second term and might even prompt her to open a dialogue with Tubman, analysts said.
Boys hawked newspapers bearing headlines like "Victory?" and "Voters defy threats with calm and courage." Many ran front-page photographs of victims from clashes on Monday between riot police and opposition protesters in which at least two died.
Tubman has accused Liberian police of trying to kill him during the clash which occurred around, and later within, his party headquarters. He alleged that one of his bodyguards "died blocking a bullet that was aimed at me."
He said the incident made prospects for a power-sharing deal with Johnson-Sirleaf "unlikely, if not impossible."
Johnson-Sirleaf took nearly 44 percent of the first round vote on October 11. Tubman took some 33 percent but withdrew from the race last week and called for a boycott.
Tubman had said he would only be willing to participate in a second round if it were delayed by two to four weeks and if counting procedures were amended.
International election observers called the October 11 first round vote mostly free and fair. The United States, the United Nations, regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union have criticized Tubman's decision to boycott the second round.
(Editing by Mark John and Robert Woodward)