Nepal's former Maoist rebels have taken a surprising early lead in election results for a special assembly that will rewrite the country's constitution.
Election officials say the Maoists have won about two-thirds of the constituencies where results have been declared, with one of the seats going to Maoist leader Prachanda.
Officials also say the Maoists are leading in about half of some 120 other constituencies where ballot counting is underway.
Hundreds of Maoist supporters celebrated the early wins by chanting Maoist slogans and displaying the party's hammer and sickle symbol on Saturday in the capital, Kathmandu.
A complete vote count from all 240 constituencies is expected to take several weeks.
Nepal is choosing a 601-seat special assembly that is expected to abolish the world's last Hindu monarchy.
The Maoists' early gains put them ahead of their main rivals - the Communist Party of Nepal-UML and the Nepali Congress party.
One of the top election observers, former US President Jimmy Carter, says the voting Thursday was free and fair with some minor discrepancies.
But the head of one of the most visible observer groups (the Asian Network for Free Elections), Damaso Magbual, says a declaration the voting was free and fair must wait until re-polling is conducted in problem areas and the votes are re-counted.
Mr. Carter also says he hopes the United States will recognize the Maoists if they make substantial gains in the election. The US considers the Maoists a terrorist group, although they signed a peace deal in 2006 to end their 10-year insurgency and join the political process.