Candidate backed by ultra-Orthodox elected Jerusalem mayor

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Israeli religious nationalist Moshe Lion has been elected mayor of Jerusalem after a campaign that played on fears of the Holy City's secularisation

A candidate backed by ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups has been elected mayor of Jerusalem by a narrow margin, an official said on Thursday after a municipal election runoff.

Moshe Lion, whose campaign played on fears of the Holy City's secularisation, garnered less than 51 percent of the vote in Tuesday's runoff, with his secular opponent Ofer Berkovitch receiving more than 49 percent.

The final results, confirmed to AFP by an interior ministry spokesman, had been delayed while the votes of more than 9,000 soldiers, police officers, disabled people and prisoners were counted and added to the main tally.

Lion, who like Berkovitch was a member of the city council, had the support of some ultra-Orthodox factions, including the Shas party, which is led by Interior Minister Arye Deri.

He was also supported by Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned as defence minister on Wednesday over a controversial Gaza ceasefire.

Lion, an accountant by training with rich experience in the public sector, is a religious nationalist and not ultra-Orthodox.

The 56-year-old was briefly head of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office in 1997.

Deri had invoked the devil on the campaign trail.

"All of our rabbis support (Lion) against a secular candidate who wants to continue secularising Jerusalem and turn our Holy City into a regular city," Deri told supporters in a video on Saturday night.

"Satan is conducting an emergency recruitment drive and has called up all his forces."

Speaking early Wednesday after the main tally was published, Lion stressed he would work towards unity.

"Jerusalem has chosen togetherness," he said. "I plan, God willing, to be the mayor of all Jerusalem residents."

Berkovitch has so far refused to accept defeat, claiming foul play during voting.

The ultra-Orthodox constitute more than a third of Jerusalem's Jewish population and wield heavy influence in the politics of the city, which has previously had an ultra-Orthodox mayor.

East Jerusalem's 330,000 Palestinians are eligible to vote in local elections, but the vast majority stay away, refusing to recognise Israeli control over the sector of the city they claim as the capital of their future state.

Israel occupied east Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community. It sees the entire city as its capital.