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Afghan presidential vote count concludes, Karzai supporters claim victory

Ballot counting in Afghanistan’s presidential election is over with results to be released next week, the election authority has said.

Turnout was somewhere between 40 and 50%.

Afghans voted yesterday to elect a new president and for 420 councillors in 34 provincial councils.

‘The counting is finished for the presidential race,’ Independent Election Commission official Zekria Barakzai told AFP.

Counting for the provincial vote is continuing in Kabul, Nangarhar, Baghlan and Herat, he said.

‘The turnout was different from south to the north and central parts of Afghanistan but still it is satisfactory and I expect that turnout will be from 40 to 50%,’ he said.

Observers said yesterday they expected turnout to be lower than the 50% of the last election, which was for parliament and the provincial councils.

The commission is due to start releasing the results from Tuesday.

One election official has been killed after Taliban insurgents attacked a vehicle carrying boxes of ballot papers, which they then set alight, in northern Afghanistan.

Millions of Afghans went to the polls yesterday, defying Taliban threats and sporadic attacks to choose a president amid worsening violence in only the second direct vote since the hardline Islamists were overthrown in late 2001.

The Afghan government said nine civilians and 14 members of the security forces were killed in a total of 135 incidents countrywide on polling day.

The insurgents attacked the vehicle carrying counted ballot papers in northern Balkh province last night, Afghan army commander General Murad Ali told Reuters.

‘An IEC (Independent Election Commission) official was killed and all the ballot papers were burnt,’ Mr Ali said.

Taliban militants failed to mount a single strike that could threaten the poll itself but carried out intermittent attacks across the country.

Rockets fell on towns, especially in the south and east, and two gunmen wearing suicide vests were killed in a gunbattle in Kabul.

The UN said the levels of violence were lower than expected.

On other hands Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s campaign chief on Friday claimed a single-round victory in the country’s Presidential Election, saying Karzai had secured the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off in October.

“Initial results show that the President has got a majority,” Deen Mohammad said, although he said it was the duty of the election commission to announce the official results. “We will not go to a second round. We have got a majority.”

Votes were being counted in Afghanistan this morning after a Presidential Election hailed as a success by the international community despite low turnout, Taliban violence and allegations of irregularities.

Pre-vote opinion polls had suggested Karzai would likely be forced into a second round run-off in six weeks time with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

There were concerns that dissatisfaction with the outcome of the election could spark protests and Abdullah’s office has detailed 40 complaints so far, most of them alleging that officials were commanding people to vote for Karzai.

The election authority said it was investigating complaints from candidates, although Western officials played down prospects for entirely free and fair elections given reports of vote-buying and Karzai’s reliance on warlords.

Officials said it would be some days before they could determine how many of the 17 million registered voters had cast their ballots, but Interior Minister Hanif Atmar said the government was “satisfied” with turnout levels.

However, international observers said turnout was likely to be lower than the roughly 50 percent reached in the 2005 parliamentary polls and much lower than the 70 percent figure during the 2004 presidential election.

They said the numbers could be particularly low in the south, where the Taliban insurgency is at its bloodiest despite a US and NATO campaign to pacify the lawless nation.

One diplomat described turnout in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city and the capital of the 1996-2001 Taliban regime, as ” very, very low” while another diplomat estimated turnout in parts of the south as below 10 percent.

Afghans were electing a president and 420 councillors in 34 provinces across the country.

Karzai praised the war-weary Afghan people for defying threats of violence and described the polls as a “day of pride and glory” for the country.

US President Barack Obama, NATO and many other Western backers of Karzai’s government also welcomed Thursday’s election, which although subject to sporadic attacks was spared a feared full-scale Taliban onslaught.

The United Nations representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said the most positive aspect of the polls was the lower than expected level of violence and he urged the country’s leaders to pull together.

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