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Zambians await election results amid rising tensions

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MARCO LONGARI/AFP or licensors


Vote counting was underway in Zambia on Friday after a hard-fought general election that saw sporadic clashes and troop reinforcements dispatched to three provinces.

The ballot is expected to be the tightest yet in the third successive standoff between President Edgar Lungu, 64, and veteran opposition candidate Hakainde Hichilema, 59.

Partial and regional tallies started to trickle in on Friday, with final consolidated results expected by Sunday, although Lungu's party hinted it was heading for victory.

Thursday's vote presented a test of democracy in the usually peaceful southern African nation country of more than 17 million people.

Rising living costs appear to have sapped support for Lungu, who is accused of growing increasingly iron-fisted since taking office in 2015.

Hichilema is vying for the top job for the sixth time, this time with the backing of 10 opposition parties.

Violence occurred in North-Western province, a Hichilema stronghold, where two people including a chairman of the ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party were killed, Lungu announced late Thursday.

He placed the blame on Hichilema's United Party for National Development (UPND) party.

Zambia's electoral commission has launched an investigation into the chairman's murder.

The UPND distanced itself from the case, calling it a "distraction" tactic.

The PF also alleges that some of its agents were beaten and chased from polling stations in Southern province.