* Johnson-Sirleaf leading with 44 pct of votes
* Election commission says 96 pct of votes counted
* Commission says second-round vote likely
By Alphonso Toweh
MONROVIA, Oct 16 (Reuters) - A group of nine Liberian opposition parties on Sunday, asked the West African nation’s election commission to recount the votes of a presidential poll, alleging fraud in the results announced so far.
The nine, which includes President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s two main challengers, said in a statement during a rally that they wanted Liberia’s National Election Commission (NEC) to release the total number of voters per county and recount all the votes.
The row is the first sign of trouble in Tuesday’s presidential election, the second post-war ballot which is a test of progress towards stability and Liberia’s readiness for investment in untapped mineral and agricultural resources.
Latest results announced on Sunday showed that newly named Nobel Peace laureate Johnson-Sirleaf was leading with 44 percent of the votes, ahead of Winston Tubman of the CDC party, on 32.2 percent with some 1,162,729 valid votes and 96 percent of total votes counted.
Despite her lead, Johnson-Sirleaf remains short of the outright majority required for a first-round win and the NEC’s chairman said the election was likely to be decided in a second-round ballot.
“From the statistics we have, we do not think the remaining number will make any difference or give any one party the absolute majority required by law to win on the first ballot,” NEC’s James Fromayah told journalists on Sunday.
A run-off will take place in early November if no candidate secures more than 50 percent.
The NEC, which has so far rejected the opposition’s allegations of fraud, said turnout stood so far at 71.4 percent of total registered voters.
“We the nine, we will no longer accept the election results that are being announced to the Liberian people and the international community by the NEC,” the nine parties said in a statement.
“The NEC must also tell how many voters per county. It must also tell us many people voted per district before it releases the results,” the statement said.
“Because they did not do that, (release results per district and county) they made it impossible for us to independently verify the result,” it said.
The election commission has rejected allegations of fraud and said the vote would not be tarnished, even if the opposition parties withdrew their officials from the remainder of the counting process, as they had threatened.
“We will proceed with the electoral process in a very even-handed manner as we have been doing so the results and out work can speak for themselves,” Fromayah said.
International election observers such as the Carter Centre, have said they have not seen any evidence of fraud in the election so far.
Some 1.8 million Liberians registered to vote that was Liberia’s first locally organised poll since an on-and-off 1989-2003 conflict. (Writing by Bate Felix)