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October 20, 2009

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Karzai win in dispute after UN probe

UNITED Nations-backed fraud investigators yesterday threw out nearly a third Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's votes from the disputed August election.

The findings set the stage for a runoff between him and his top challenger.

It was unclear, however, whether the Afghan-led Independent Election Commission would accept the findings of the fraud panel and announce a runoff.

Karzai's spokesman said it was too soon to make a judgment based on the figures released by the panel.

That could mean a further delay in forming a new government that the United States believes is needed to combat the Taliban insurgency. A protracted crisis could also lead to political unrest.

The White House has also said no decision on sending more US troops to Afghanistan would be made before the election crisis is resolved - a stance reiterated by the civilian chief of the NATO military alliance yesterday.

United States Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who was among a host of international envoys in Kabul at the weekend urging the president to accept the fraud rulings, returned to Kabul yesterday to resume meetings with Karzai, the US Embassy said.

Two international officials familiar with the investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission told The Associated Press that the findings showed Karzai falling below the 50-percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with his chief rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

An independent calculation by an election monitoring group, Democracy International, showed Karzai with 48.3 percent, or about 2.1 million votes, after more than 995,000 of his votes were thrown out for fraud.

Preliminary results released last month showed Karzai winning the August 20 election with more than 54 percent.

However, allegations of fraud prompted the investigation and held up proclamation of a winner.

Abdullah campaign spokesman Fazel Sancharaki welcomed the fraud panel's findings and said they showed Karzai's percentage of the vote was 48 percent.

"This is a step forward, now it is up to the IEC to announce the final results," Sancharaki said.

He said it would be illegal for the IEC to reject the findings.

Afghan law declares the UN-backed panel the final arbiter on fraud allegations. However, Karzai supporters on the election commission have argued that the recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that they must have a say in whether the findings are accepted.


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