Wednesday, October 14, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday acknowledged fraud in the still-unresolved August presidential election but defended the vote as a “victory” for the Afghan people.

Results of the Aug. 20 balloting have stalled because of allegations of massive fraud, as a U.N.-backed panel investigates the charges before deciding whether Mr. Karzai won or must face his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, in a runoff.

Allegations that Mr. Karzai’s followers tried to rig the election have tarnished his image and raised doubts in the United States about the merits of the war even as the Obama administration weighs sending thousands more U.S. troops to fight Taliban insurgents.

In a bid to refurbish his image, Mr. Karzai appeared Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” endorsing calls for more U.S. troops and accusing his critics of exaggerating the extent of election fraud.

“There were irregularities. There must’ve also been fraud committed, no doubt. But the election was good and fair and worthy of praise, not of scorn, which the election received from the international media. That makes me very unhappy. That rather makes me angry,” Mr. Karzai said.

“And we must not turn an election of the Afghan people - a victory of the Afghan people - into a nightmare for the Afghan people,” he said, adding that the balloting “as a whole was good and free and democratic” despite efforts by the Taliban to keep people from the polls.

The crisis deepened Monday when one of the two Afghans on the U.N.-backed commission looking into fraud charges resigned, claiming the three foreigners on the panel were “making all the decisions on their own.”

Mr. Karzai said during his television interview that the resignation of the Afghan commissioner, Malawi Mustafa Barakzai, “has cast serious doubt on the functioning of the commission,” which is expected to decide on a runoff within the coming days.

The president said the commission “should do everything now to remove those suspicions and to remove any of those stigmas, and to prove that it is impartial and fair and not dictated from outside by foreign elements or governments.”

One of Mr. Abdullah’s deputy campaign managers accused Mr. Karzai’s election staff of engineering the resignation to discredit its findings in the fraud investigation.

“Barakzai’s resignation has direct connection to Karzai. It was Karzai’s idea,” Saleh Mohammad Registani said. “Karzai is trying to bring the work of the [Electoral Complaints Commission] into question.”

An official with Mr. Karzai’s campaign rejected the allegation, saying Mr. Barakzai was “totally independent.”

Arasalah Jamal, the Karzai campaign’s liaison to the commission, said Mr. Barakzai quit because he was being cut out of the decision-making process, a charge the U.N. mission here has denied.

If the commission orders a runoff, officials hope to schedule the second-round vote by the end of this month before winter begins in this mountainous country.

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