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Concern over Afghan elections fraud

Afghan election observers have raised serious concerns about the weekend parliamentary elections because of reported fraud.

But President Hamid Karzai commended the balloting as a solid success.

The conflicting statements underscored the difficulty of determining the credibility of the vote also hit by militant attacks that reduced turnout.

Afghan officials are still gathering and tallying results in a process that could last weeks if not months.

A repeat of the pervasive fraud that tainted a presidential election a year ago would only erode further the standing of the Karzai administration as it struggles against a Taliban insurgency.

While the first vote counts are due to be made public in a few days' time, full preliminary results are not expected until early October, and then there will be weeks of fraud investigations before winners are officially announced for the 249 parliamentary seats, which were contested by about 2,500 candidates.

On Sunday, the independent Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) said it "has serious concerns about the quality of elections", given the insecurity and numerous complaints of fraud.

FEFA deployed about 7,000 people around the country, making it the largest observer of the parliamentary vote.

At least 21 civilians and nine police officers were killed during the voting, according to officials amid dozens of bombings and rocket attacks. In addition, two poll workers were kidnapped in northern Balkh province and their bodies were discovered later.

The election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but it appears to have been lower than last year. The commission said that at least four million people voted - at least 24 % of the country's 17 million registered voters.

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