LUSAKA, Zambia (AP) _ Independent election observers from a center headed by former President Jimmy Carter said Sunday that although it was too early to say whether or not Zambian elections were fair, there were ``serious concerns'' about the counting process.
Opposition candidates have charged the ruling party with rigging the elections and Anderson Mazoka, the leading opposition contender, has claimed victory, although the final results from Thursday's voting have not been announced.
Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, the former military ruler of Nigeria who headed the Carter Center's observer mission to this southern African country's third democratically held election, urged Zambians to wait patiently and peacefully for results.
``As an African who has a stake in peace and democracy in Africa, I commend the Zambians for their resilience and please urge them to maintain peace in the country,'' Abubakar said. ``Africa has had enough political upheaval.''
Zambia is nestled among unstable countries _ Angola to the west, Congo to the north, and Zimbabwe to the south.
Mazoka, who had a slight lead over ruling party candidate Levy Mwanawasa with over half of the election returns in, has said that Zambians should not accept any results that do not find him the winner.
Abubakar said the Carter Center observers were particularly concerned by reported irregularities at some district centers where votes were being tabulated. The counting process was chaotic at some centers and there were reports that some ballot boxes were not kept in secure areas, he said.
He said there were also some problems with the relaying of accurate information to the electoral commission, and that observers had heard reports that ruling party officials were seen intimidating voters at some polling places.
The observers also found fault with the sluggish pace of the vote count, which has angered many Zambians and led to allegations from Mazoka and others that the ruling party was stalling in order to fix votes.
The ruling party and the electoral commission have denied those claims, saying the unexpectedly high turnout _ 80 percent of the country's 2.6 million registered voters _ and logistical problems were to blame for the delay in determining the results.
A group of six opposition candidates including Mazoka submitted a letter to the chief justice Sunday asking he refrain from inaugurating any candidate until alleged irregularities could be reviewed.
Zambia has had only two rulers since independence from Britain in 1964, but on Thursday voters chose among an unprecedented 11 presidential candidates.
Zambians also cast votes for the national parliament, and analysts said the large number of parties competing could lead to the country's first coalition government.
Outgoing President Frederick Chiluba's party has been hurt by Zambia's high unemployment, food shortages and allegations of government corruption.