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South Africa completes election vote count; dozens arrested after unrest in poor township

JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's election commission completed a vote count that confirms the ruling African National Congress as the winner but also shows the strengthening of prominent opposition groups, according to results Saturday. The government said the election and its aftermath had gone smoothly, despite some scattered delays and disruptions, and an outbreak of street violence in a poor area of Johannesburg.

With all 22,000 voting districts counted, the African National Congress had 62.15 per cent of the vote, several percentage points lower than its result in 2009 elections, the election commission said on its website. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, won 22.23 per cent of the vote, an increase of more than 5 per cent from 2009. The Economic Freedom Fighters, a new party that wants to distribute national resources to the poor, won 6.35 per cent.

Under South Africa's system of proportional representation, the ruling party enters the new parliament with 249 of the 400 seats, the Democratic Alliance has 89 seats and the Economic Freedom Fighters is third with 25 seats. Smaller parties share the rest of the seats.

Voter turnout was 73 per cent of the 25 million South Africans, or half the population, who registered for the national and provincial elections.

In a key race, the ruling party won Gauteng, South Africa's most populous province and its economic centre, by about 53 per cent, but that was a drop of 10 per cent from its performance in the 2009 vote. The Democratic Alliance came second in Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, with nearly 31 per cent and the Economic Freedom Fighters won 10 per cent.

Once led by Nelson Mandela, the African National Congress campaigned on a record of promoting democratic freedoms and providing basic services to millions of South Africans since the end of white minority rule in 1994. Its reputation has been tarnished by the 2012 killing of several dozen protesters by police during labour unrest and a scandal involving more than $20 million in state spending on the private home of President Jacob Zuma, but its relatively solid showing reflected the resilience of its nationwide support.

The Democratic Alliance, which has centrist policies and campaigned on a platform of more jobs and curbs on corruption, has expanded its influence beyond its stronghold in the Western Cape, one of South Africa's nine provinces.

The election was mostly peaceful, but police on Saturday warned the public to stay away from areas of Alexandra, a poor township that is part of Johannesburg, after overnight unrest linked to allegations by opposition groups that vote-rigging had occurred.

About 60 people involved in violent protests have been arrested since Friday, the South African Press Association quoted police as saying.

Protests periodically break out in poor urban areas of South Africa where residents complain that government help is insufficient and they have been marginalized. President Zuma has said he will accelerate the provision of basic services to those who lack them in his new administration.

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