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Presidential hopeful calls for halt

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has suspended relations with Afghanistan's election commission and called on it to halt vote counting in an escalation of fraud allegations.

The claims threaten to disrupt what was supposed to be the country's first peaceful transfer of authority.

Mr Abdullah, a one-time aide to a famed warlord during the Afghan anti-Soviet guerilla campaign, has questioned what his team has determined is a one million vote lead by Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai in the early tallies from the June 14 run-off vote.

Mr Abdullah pointed out it is a dramatic increase from the first round that put him in the lead with 45% of the vote compared to 31.6% for his rival.

He alleged massive ballot box stuffing and other irregularities and directly accused the Independent Election Commission of interfering with the vote.

"We announce that we have no confidence or trust in the election bodies," Mr Abdullah said at a news conference. "The counting process should stop immediately and if that continues, it will have no legitimacy."

The winner will replace Hamid Karzai, who has been the only leader the country has known since the 2001 US-led invasion that ousted the Taliban. Mr Karzai was constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. An initial turnout estimate suggested seven million voters cast ballots, which would be 60% of the 12 million eligible voters and equivalent to the first round. Mr Abdullah said the turnout figure was inflated.

His comments come as he is fighting for his second chance at the presidency. He was the runner-up to Mr Karzai in disputed 2009 elections, but he dropped out of the race before a run-off could be held because of widespread vote-rigging.

A spokesman for the electoral commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, said the vote count was continuing with national and international observers monitoring the process. Preliminary results are not due until July 2, then final results on July 22, according to the official timetable. Electoral officials have said they would release partial results before that.

"The process will not be stopped, this is Independent Election Commission's decision," he told reporters. "We have a code of conduct for both candidates we hope they both will obey that code."

A spokesman for Mr Ahmadzai called Mr Abdullah's comments unfortunate and urged all sides to respect the work of the commission. "Our votes are completely clean and such comments will not worry people," the spokesman Abas Noyan said.

The first round of voting on April 5 went relatively smoothly as six other candidates were eliminated and Mr Abdullah and Mr Ahmadzai emerged as the top vote getters. But the campaign tone for the second round has been sharply more accusatory with the field narrowed to two hopefuls.

Mr Ahmadzai's team also has said monitors it deployed to the polls also recorded instances of fraud, but it has called for patience and respect for the commission's findings.

A spokeswoman for Mr Karzai's office, Adela Raz, said the outgoing president has respect for both candidates and hoped the problem could be resolved according to the law and to the benefit of the Afghan people.


From Belfast Telegraph