Afghan vote fraud claims gather momentum
Kabul: Allegations of vote-rigging in Afghanistan`s elections gathered momentum on Saturday as the main challenger said he would not accept a compromised outcome and Western powers called for transparency.
The French Foreign Ministry said Paris has called a meeting of senior Western envoys to Afghanistan to discuss their response to Presidential Elections that have been marred by fraud allegations.
The White House, following on from revelations that its envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, had a testy meeting with President Hamid Karzai immediately after the August 20 vote, condemned any acts of fraud that might emerge.
Afghans went to the polls nine days ago to elect a president and provincial councillors amid a virulent campaign by Taliban-linked insurgents to prevent people from voting, keep turnout low and cut the credibility of the process.
The US and its Western allies initially welcomed the elections as a success, but fraud concerns and early results that point to turnout of 30-35 percent have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the outcome.
With 17 percent of results released, Karzai leads his former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah by 42.3 percent to 33.1 percent.
The winner needs 50 percent plus one vote, or a second round will be called.
A French Foreign Ministry official said envoys from Britain, France, Germany and the US will meet in Paris on Wednesday, in a sign their initial optimism is turning to dismay as fraud complaints add up.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said Holbrooke wanted a run-off in order to chasten Karzai and show him his power is limited and contingent on genuine popular support.
The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has received close to 1,000 complaints, including 790 on election day, many lodged by Abdullah`s office.
Abdullah`s threat not to accept the result if it was shown to have been rigged raises the prospect of violence, even though all sides have vowed to keep a lid on dissatisfaction among their supporters.
In an interview with British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, Abdullah said he was shocked at the extent of the vote-rigging, and would examine all legal avenues to counter what he called "state-engineered fraud".
If that proved unsuccessful, he said he would refuse to recognise the election, adding: "I think if the process doesn`t survive, then Afghanistan doesn`t survive."
"If it worked, all well, if it didn`t we will not accept the legitimacy of the process and then this regime will be illegitimate."
Abdullah, who last week presented media with what he said was evidence of fraud by Karzai`s camp, said it "remains to be seen" if the ECC was strong enough to disallow suspect votes and ballot boxes.
His comments came as August became the deadliest month for US forces in the country, and 2009 the deadliest year since foreign troops arrived after the Taliban was overthrown in late 2001.
US troop deaths hit 46 for this month, compared to 45 in July. The independent website icasualities.org, says 300 soldiers in the NATO-led coalition have died this year, up from 294 for all of 2008.
The international community has supported Karzai`s government in trying to quell the insurgency with more than 100,000 troops under NATO and US command fighting an apparently resurgent Taliban.
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