Guyana police surround elections office, diplomats warn of vote fraud
By Neil Marks
GEORGETOWN (Reuters) - Guyanese police on Friday surrounded an elections council office amid accusations that the results of this week's presidential election were altered to favor incumbent President David Granger, according to a Reuters witness.
Diplomats and opposition leaders on Thursday questioned official results of the vote in Guyana, held on Monday to choose who will oversee a nascent oil boom that has the potential to transform the economy of the poor South American nation.
The situation could fuel long-simmering ethnic tensions between the country's Afro-Guyanese and those of Indian descent, who have grown suspicious that the other is seeking control over revenues from oil production.
Dozens of police officers remained outside the command center of the Guyana Elections Commission, known locally as GECOM.
Diplomats from the United States, the European Union, Canada and Great Britain on Friday expressed "deep concern over credible allegations of electoral fraud" and called on Granger "to avoid a transition of government which we believe would be unconstitutional."
Granger's office said in a statement that the president met with representatives of the Organization of American States and the Caribbean Community to insist that he could not intervene in the vote tallying process.
"The President has not acted unlawfully," the presidency said in a statement.
Granger on Thursday night gave celebratory statements to a rally of supporters in which he said "We are here to serve you for the next five years."
Late on Thursday night, the police had entered the GECOM command center charged with tallying votes and kicked out employees and observers, according to a video of the incident that was broadcast by local media.
Opposition leaders say the elections council inflated votes for Granger in an area known as Region Four, the country's most populous electoral district, to give him a lead over opposition candidate Irfaan Ali.
Guyana, which has a population of less than 800,000, is expected to become a major oil producer in the coming years as a consortium of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp taps into 8 billion barrels of oil and gas off the country's coast.
The country's politics has remained divided along ethnic lines since Guyana's 1966 independence from Britain.
Granger's APNU-AFC coalition is largely made up of black Guyanese descended from African slaves while the PPP mostly represents descendants of Indian laborers who arrived in the 19th century to work on sugar plantations.
Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall on Friday said the opposition had obtained an injunction from the country's top court blocking the elections commission from declaring a winner until it fully verified the votes in Region Four.
The elections commission did not respond to requests for comment.
(Reporting by Neil Marks, writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)