MONROVIA, Liberia -- Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a former finance minister and a Harvard graduate, claimed victory yesterday in Liberia's presidential election. If the win is certified, it would make her the first elected woman president in Africa.
With 90.8 percent of votes counted, Johnson-Sirleaf had received 59.1 percent, compared with 40.9 percent for former soccer star George Weah, the National Elections Commission said.
''It's clear that the Liberian people have expressed confidence in me," Johnson- Sirleaf said in an interview. ''They have elected me to lead the team that will bring this reform to the country and that will deliver development. We're going to have a government of inclusion. We're going to reach out to the people."
She added that she planned to offer Weah a post in government, perhaps the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
Weah's camp did not immediately concede defeat in the vote, Liberia's first since the end of a 1989-2003 civil war and the formation of a transitional government.
Earlier, officials called for calm amid Weah's accusations that poll workers had stuffed ballot boxes in Johnson-Sirleaf's favor.
Yesterday, Weah met with Alan Doss, who heads the 15,000-member UN mission in Liberia, and said he would press a formal complaint with the Elections Commission. ''We are seeking the advice of the international community and all the people that are involved," Weah said.
''While we are preparing ourselves for the legal side, we are also asking our people to be very calm."
Weah's supporters include many former clan chiefs, rebel leaders, and young men who fought in Liberia's 14-year civil war. That killed as many as 200,000 people and plunged the country's 3 million residents into abject poverty.
While international observers who monitored the polling said that preliminary findings had indicated that the election had been conducted fairly, Doss said that the fraud allegations were being taken seriously.
''Any allegation of any fraud is serious, and we don't want allegations of fraud to mar the election," he said.
Johnson-Sirleaf's campaign vigorously denied the charges.
''It's all lies," said Jemima Caulcrick, a top official of Johnson-Sirleaf's Unity Party. ''They just don't want a woman to be president in Africa. But she shall be."
Max van den Berg, head of a 50-member European Union observer mission, said the Liberia vote was ''well administered in a peaceful, transparent, and orderly manner."
David Carroll, who led a team from the Carter Center in Atlanta, said ''minor irregularities" had been noted, but ''none of our observers saw any serious problems."
Observers from the Economic Community of West African States, which played a key role in brokering a Liberian peace, also deemed the vote fair.
Across the country's bombed-out capital, large groups of Liberians stood on crumbling street corners, listening to results as they were announced on radio. Some argued with one another, shaking fingers and shouting.
The winner will have to govern a country left in ruins by war, its buildings smashed and nearly one-third of its people in relief camps.
Johnson-Sirleaf, 67, has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University and has held top regional positions at the World Bank, at the United Nations, and within the Liberian government.
In elections in 1997, Johnson-Sirleaf ran second to Charles Taylor, who many said had been voted into power by a fearful electorate. Taylor was forced from power two years ago; he is living in exile in Nigeria.
Weah's ascent from Monrovia's slums to international soccer stardom had earned him support in a dirt-poor country short on heroes. The 39-year-old is a high school dropout with no experience in government, but that is seen as a plus by many in a country that has long been ruled by coup leaders and warlords.
Founded by freed American slaves in the mid-1800s, Liberia was once among Africa's most prosperous countries, rich in diamonds, ancient forests, and rubber. Years of war ended in 2003 when Taylor was forced to step down as advancing rebels shelled the capital.
Elected women in high office are rare in Africa. This year, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka was appointed deputy president of South Africa, and Luisa Dias Diogo was named prime minister of Mozambique. Liberia briefly had an unelected woman president, Ruth Perry, in the mid-1990s.