Monday, September 7, 2009

KABUL, Afghanistan | Afghan electoral authorities Sunday announced the first cancellation of votes from last month’s fraud-tainted elections as partial results showed President Hamid Karzai moving into a clear lead.

Election officials had canceled the votes from 447 polling sites across the country, accounting for up to 200,000 votes, because of fraud, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said.

Mr. Karzai held on to his lead, with 48.6 percent of the vote, according to partial results, well ahead of his nearest rival Abdullah Abdullah, with 31.7 percent.

The IEC announced results from 74.2 percent of the polling stations used in Afghanistan’s second direct presidential election.

“Votes from 447 polling stations across the country have been nullified because of fraud,” IEC spokesman Noor Mohammed Noor told Agence France-Presse.

He said each polling site had about 600-700 ballots, so the canceled ballots “could be around 200,000 votes.”

The election held Aug. 20 has been overshadowed by allegations of widespread fraud and vote-rigging, with the Election Complaints Commission dealing with more than 2,000 complaints.

An IEC spokeswoman said Sunday she had “no idea” when the preliminary results would be released. Final results are due Sept. 17.

Mr. Abdullah has also reported widespread vote-rigging by Karzai’s camp and threatened to reject any result he regards as compromised.

He warned on Saturday that “state-engineered vote” fraud could fuel instability and Taliban insurgency, and urged the international community to intervene.

“We have insecurity in this country. We have bad government. We have corruption. We have narcotics. We have a war. We have an insurgency,” Mr. Abdullah told reporters.

NATO and Western allies have stressed in recent days their long-term commitment to keeping troops in Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban, despite the fraud concerns.

In fighting Sunday, NATO said a U.S. service member has died as the result of a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan.

The death marked the sixth U.S. fatality in as many days in the widening war, according to an Associated Press count. No other details were released.

Violence has surged across much of the country since President Obama ordered an additional 21,000 U.S. troops to the country this year, shifting the focus of the U.S.-led war on Islamic extremism from Iraq.

Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, the deadliest month in the deadliest year for U.S. forces there since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001.

A Dutch soldier from NATO’s international force in Afghanistan died Sunday after being wounded in a firefight with suspected Taliban, the defense ministry said.

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