(Reuters) - Hundreds of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's supporters demanded a manual recount of Iraq's election result on Friday, hours before officials were due to release the final vote tallies.


In the latest in a series of demonstrations that followed Maliki's call for a recount, protesters gathered at Baghdad's provincial government building waving banners that read: "No, no to fraud" and "Where have our voices gone?"

Iraq's Independent High Electoral Council (IHEC) is to release final preliminary results of the March 7 parliamentary election at 7 p.m. (1200 EDT).

An election official said the top two blocs, Maliki's State of Law and the Iraqiya coalition led by secularist former premier Iyad Allawi, were expected to be one or two seats apart.

The close race has raised tensions in Iraq after an election voters hoped would offer stability after years of sectarian warfare. The tensions foreshadowed potentially divisive talks to form the next government.

Sectarian violence exploded when politicians took more than five months to agree a government after the last parliamentary vote in 2005. Tens of thousands of people were killed.

All of the major parties have alleged irregularities in the election. However, Maliki and his supporters have been most outspoken as the last published results put Allawi's bloc ahead in the national count by about 11,000 votes.

"We condemn the work of IHEC and cases of fraud that have occurred for the benefit of the Iraqiya list," said protester Arkan Shahab, 47.

"The process of fraud that has openly occurred and the abolition of the will of the Iraqi people will have severe consequences for the perpetrators."

Foreign diplomats and analysts have expressed concern about the possibility of renewed violence if the losing parties refuse to accept the results. Violence has dropped dramatically in the last two years but attacks blamed on Sunni insurgents occur daily.

Major General Qassim al-Moussawi, Baghdad's security spokesman, said security forces were not imposing a curfew but would be ready for any signs of trouble as the vote results were released.

"We have a heavy deployment of troops in all areas, checkpoints, to reassure people and address their concerns," he said.

(Additional reporting by Khalid al-Ansary, writing by Jim Loney, editing by Janet Lawrence)