By Crispin Dembassa-Kette
BANGUI (Reuters) - Almost all of the 30 candidates running for president of Central African Republic now support the election despite calls this week by 20 of them for the vote count to be stopped, the U.N. peacekeeping mission said on Wednesday.
About 77 percent of votes have been counted in the Dec. 30 election that is hoped will mark the end of three years of conflict in which thousands have died.
Two former prime ministers are in the lead, according to election authorities, and will likely contest a run-off election on Jan. 31.
Anicet Georges Dologuele had 259,211 votes, while Faustin Archange Touadera had won 222,391 votes. No other candidate had more than 135,000 votes.
The U.N. said its statement followed a meeting on Tuesday between the candidates and senior officials including Parfait Onanga-Anyanga, the U.N. Secretary General's special representative and Balla Keita, head of the peacekeeping mission.
Twenty-eight candidates have indicated they want "to make sure that the election process carries on" and would use only legal means to express any complaints, it said in a statement.
Twenty candidates had previously urged authorities to stop the vote count because of what they said were irregularities in the ballot.
Since Tuesday, at least five of those have publicly reversed their position.
The United Nations is a significant player in Central African Republic where Muslim rebels and Christian militias have often targeted civilians. About one fifth of the impoverished country's 5 million people have been forced to flee their homes.
The country's troubles intensified in early 2013 when mainly Muslim rebels from an alliance called the Seleka seized power in the mostly Christian nation, provoking reprisals from Christian "anti-balaka" militias.
Catherine Samba-Panza became transitional president in May 2014 with a mandate to guide the country to the election, a transition supported by the United Nations.
Since then, inter-communal and inter-religious violence has flared sporadically despite the presence of peacekeepers and French forces.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Louise Ireland)