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Afghan Election Officials Don’t Accept U.N. Findings

Afghan women cast their ballots at a local mosque used as a polling station August 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.
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Above: Afghan women cast their ballots at a local mosque used as a polling station August 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Afghan electoral crisis intensified Monday as officials in Kabul responsible for declaring final results from the August presidential ballot refused to accept findings of a U.N.-backed investigative panel that would force a runoff, those involved in the process said.

The Electoral Complaints Commission completed its investigation last week into allegations of ballot-stuffing and intimidation in the Aug. 20 vote.

Two international officials who have seen the results said enough votes for President Hamid Karzai were thrown out that his totals dropped below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with top challenger Abdullah Abdullah.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the findings have not been released. One of them said the findings were "incontrovertible."

However, the separate Independent Election Commission — which is dominated by Karzai allies — has rejected the data, the officials said. Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said the president will not commit to accepting the findings until they are publicly released.

That has raised fears that Karzai may refuse to go along with a runoff even after the figures are announced — further delaying formation of a government that the U.S. believes is needed to help combat the growing Taliban insurgency.

A protracted crisis could also lead to political unrest. Hundreds of Karzai supporters protested in the south over the weekend, calling for the electoral commission to release results quickly and saying they will reject a second round.

They gathered in the main street of the southeastern city of Spin Boldak on Sunday, shouting, "We want the result!" and "Karzai is our leader!"

Ali Shah Khan, a tribal leader from the area, said the protesters believed the August vote was fair and that foreigners were delaying the results to unseat Karzai.

"We know they don't want President Karzai because he is a strong leader and he is working only for the people of Afghanistan," Khan said. "The foreign countries want a weak leader for Afghanistan. After that they can do whatever they want."

The White House says President Obama will not send more U.S. troops until a credible government is in place.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were in Kabul last weekend urging the Afghans to resolve the standoff quickly.

The complaints panel planned to release its findings Monday, according to Nellika Little, a spokeswoman for the U.N.-backed group.

It was unclear what would happen if the election commission continues to reject the findings. Afghan law says the U.N.-backed panel is the final arbiter on complaints, but the Afghan election commission maintains it can contest at least parts of the investigation.

Abdullah campaign spokesman Fazel Sancharaki said the U.N.-backed panel "is under threat" from Karzai.

"He's telling them not to accept the findings if they show less than 50 percent for him. That's why the IEC is not accepting the final report," he said. "There is no end to this misery. Negotiations are still going on, but there is no agreement."

Omar, Karzai's campaign spokesman, has denied any presidential interference.

As the debate rages, deadly fighting continues.

On Monday, Taliban militants set fire to 15 trucks carrying supplies to a military base in eastern Ghazni province, according to local official Sahib Khan. Afghan security guards killed two militants during the fighting.

Two Afghan security troopers were killed in a gun battle overnight with Taliban fighters near Ghazni city, provincial spokesman Ismail Jahangir said.

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