Washington – President Donald Trump has accused Democrats without evidence of trying to “rig” Tuesday’s US election as the result hangs in the balance.
His Democratic challenger Joe Biden earlier appealed for calm as the nail-biting count drags on in five states.
While clinging to his edge in Nevada and Arizona, Mr Biden has been chewing into the Republican president’s lead in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
It follows one of the most rancorous presidential races in living memory.
What did Trump say?
In his first public remarks since appearing at the White House in the early hours of Wednesday, the president said: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win.
“If you count the illegal votes they can try to steal the election from us.”
Beyond allegations of irregularities, the Trump campaign has not presented any evidence of election fraud.
Speaking from the White House on Thursday, the president added: “We were winning in all the key locations, by a lot actually, and then our numbers started getting miraculously whittled away in secret and they wouldn’t allow legally permissible observers.”
Mr Trump’s critics have pointed out his lead is being cut into because he actively discouraged his supporters to vote by mail, while Mr Biden urged his voters to use postal ballots, and it is these votes that are now being tallied in the key states.
The president added: “There’s been a lot of shenanigans and we can’t stand for that in our country.”
What’s the reaction?
Mr Trump’s remarks were criticised by a couple of fellow Republicans who have in the past been rare voices of dissent against the president within his party.
Outgoing Michigan congressman Paul Mitchell, who decided not to run for re-election this year, said: “Our nation demands that its political leaders accept both wins and losses with grace and maturity. Let the voters decide.”
Illinois congressman Adam Kinzinger said: “If you have legit concerns about fraud present evidence and take it to court. Stop spreading debunked misinformation… This is getting insane.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan – who has previously spoken out against Mr Trump – was more forthright in his criticism.
“There is no defence for the President’s comments tonight,” he tweeted, “undermining our Democratic process. America is counting the votes, and we must respect the results as we always have before.”
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What did Biden say?
Earlier on Thursday, speaking from his campaign headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, Mr Biden appealed for calm across the country.
In a brief televised address, the Democratic challenger again expressed confidence he would be declared the winner.
“Democracy is sometimes messy,” he said. “It sometimes requires a little patience as well.
“But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years, the system of governance that has been the envy of the world.”
He added: “I asked everyone to stay calm. All people to stay calm. The process is working. The count is being completed. And we’ll know very soon.”
As results gradually trickle in, protests involving both sides have been held in major cities over the vote counting.
What’s the current state of the race?
Tuesday’s presidential election has a cliffhanger ending in the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and North Carolina.
Mr Biden has since been declared the winner of Michigan and likely Wisconsin, while nail-biting vote counts involving razor-thin margins have kept America on edge in the other five states.
Mr Biden now has 253 electoral college votes, giving him a commanding lead in the race to accumulate the 270 needed to win the White House under the state-by-state US election system. Mr Trump has 214.
A win in just Pennsylvania or two of the other four remaining states would be enough to confirm as Mr Biden president-elect, barring any longshot legal challenge.
Mr Trump, meanwhile, needs to win Pennsylvania and three of the remaining four states: Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona and Nevada.
A senior Trump administration official told the BBC’s US partner CBS News that Mr Trump did not plan to concede if Mr Biden ultimately declared victory.
The unnamed official vowed the legal fight would go on, adding: “In a free and fair election the president will win.”
Mr Trump’s team has raised millions of dollars for a legal battle.
Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, meanwhile, predicted in a webinar hosted by a think tank earlier on Thursday that Mr Trump would “absolutely” run for president again in four years’ time if he lost to Mr Biden. -BBC