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September 21, 2009

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Afghan vote to be resolved by winter

THE United Nations is confident Afghanistan's election can be resolved before winter, with ballots already being printed to hold a second round if a fraud investigation makes that necessary, a spokesman said yesterday.

Preliminary results show President Hamid Karzai with 54.6 percent of the vote - enough to win the August 20 poll in a single round - but a UN-backed watchdog has ordered a partial recount because of fraud.

If the recount eliminates enough of Karzai's votes so that he no longer scores more than 50 percent, a second round must be held against his main opponent, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

A senior Afghan election official said on Saturday that a second round, if necessary, would have to be held by the third week in October or be postponed until next year because of harsh weather that makes much of the country inaccessible.

That would give the fraud investigators just two weeks to complete their recount to allow two more weeks for campaigning.

UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said he was confident the recount could be completed fast enough to either crown Karzai the victor in the first round or hold the run-off this year.

As a precaution, officials have already ordered ballot papers printed up for the possible second round, he said.

"We all recognize the difficulty in holding a second round as winter approaches, but all that does is increase our determination to put all our efforts into having a second round this year, if it's needed," Siddique said.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission has ordered a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations after finding "clear and convincing evidence of fraud."


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