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Bolivia election observer steps up scrutiny of disputed result

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Bolivia's election observer will convene a special meeting on Wednesday after a disputed presidential vote showed President Evo Morales would win outright, which sparked angry protests around the South Americannation.

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The Organization of American States (OAS), an official observer of the election, raised concerns after an official rapid count of votes gave Morales, a leftist in power since 2006, a 10-point lead over rival Carlos Mesa.

This result, which would allow Morales to avoid a risky second round, came after a preliminary count was abruptly halted following the vote on Sunday. With nearly 84% of ballots counted, Morales and Mesa appeared to be heading for a run-off.

A binding vote-count is still underway and could take days to finish.

The OAS raised concerns about the "hard-to-explain" change in the overall trend of the result, which it said "drastically modified the fate of the election and generates a loss of confidence in the electoral process."

On Tuesday, pockets of protesters remained on streets around the country after a night of rioting and skirmishes between voters and police, which saw a number of vote counting stations and ballot boxes set ablaze.

In one case, in the city of Potosi, two people jumped from a burning building to escape the flames.

In downtown La Paz on Tuesday, roads and markets were clogged with residents loading up with rice, cooking oil, potatoes and other basics.

A political group affiliated with Morales, Conalcam, slammed the unrest, saying it was orchestrated by the right-wing opposition. The group called on supporters to defend Morales' "victory" with peaceful counter-protests.

The preliminary count from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) said Morales had 46.85% of the vote to Mesa's 36.74%, just giving him the 10-point lead needed.

Mesa said he did not recognize the result, while the OAS said it would recommend a second-round.

"This is a tragic day for Bolivian democracy," Carlos Alarcon, a representative of Mesa's Citizen Community party, said at a protest site late on Monday.

Morales "has once again robbed the vote, the right to decide by our votes who will be president of Bolivia."

Morales has kept a low profile since confidently claiming on Sunday night that the eventual vote would hand him an outright victory.

Masked youths, tear gas

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