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August 22, 2009

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Afghanistan opponents both claim poll victory

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah both claimed victory yesterday in the presidential election, a day after millions braved dozens of militant attacks to cast ballots.

Partial preliminary results won't be made public before Tuesday, as Afghanistan and the dozens of countries with troops and aid organizations in the country wait to see who will lead the troubled nation for the next five years.

The next president faces an agenda filled with crises, including rising insurgent violence, rampant corruption and a huge narcotics trade.

Claims of early victory by Karzai and Abdullah were an attempt to win the expectations game, and officials with the country's Independent Election Commission said it was too early to call.

Counting at polling sites had been completed, but ballots are being sent to Kabul, election officials said.

Abdullah's camp said it was investigating claims of fraud across southern provinces where Karzai is expected to do well.

"As far as my campaign is concerned, I am in the lead, and that's despite the rigging which has taken place in some parts of the country," Abdullah told reporters.

He claimed that government officials interfered with ballot boxes, and in some places blocked monitors from inspecting boxes.

Karzai's campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, said "we are well ahead."

"Our prediction is that the election will not go to the second round," Omar said. "Our initial information is that we will hopefully be able to win the elections in the first round."

The International Republican Institute, a United States-based nonprofit organization that has about 30 election observers in Afghanistan, said the vote was at a "lower standard" than the 2004 and 2005 Afghan elections."

But "the process so far has been credible," it said.


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