Major Kurdish parties lead in 2 provinces in Iraq's preliminary election results

Turkmen protest outside UN office in Erbil

Turkmen protest outside UN office in Erbil

In the run-up to the election last week, Turkmen and Arab residents of Kirkuk had cried foul amid reports of malfunctioning electronic voting machines, which were used for the first time in Iraqi elections.

About 90 percent of votes from Kirkuk, an ethnically-mixed oil province at the heart of a long-running dispute with the Kurds, have been counted, Badran said.

"The situation inside Kirkuk province is stable and is not a cause for concern", Major General Maan al-Saadi said in a statement from Iraq's national security media centre.

"People wanted a change and they voted in large numbers to make that change, but thousands of votes were not able to be cast, people were stopped from going to vote", said Tahrir al-Obaidi, a lawyer who joined the demonstration.

Kirkuk Governor Rakan al-Jabouri told The Associated Press no one was being held hostage.

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Saturday's elections were the first since the defeat of IS past year by Iraqi forces backed by a US-led coalition, but the turnout fell far short of previous elections with only 44.5 percent of registered voters participating. The process could take months.

Riyadh al-Badran said the gunmen, who he did not identify, were putting pressure on the commission to change the election results.

The election commission said on Tuesday that the results indicated a win for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), an Iraqi Kurdish party.

Last October, Iraqi forces - backed by Shia Hashd al-Shaabi [Popular Mobilisation militias] - ousted Kurdish Peshmerga fighters from Kirkuk city. Such hostages situations might become a growing problem if the recounts are expanded nationwide, as Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi has suggested.

Turnout was 44 percent, the lowest since the 2003 USA -led invasion that overthrew Saddam Hussein. Iraqis are skeptical of a political class that has been unable to combat corruption and create jobs.

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