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Afghans Await Election Fraud Report


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International pressure was mounting Saturday, as Afghans waited for the release of a report by a U.N.-backed panel, which could lead to a runoff vote following the country's disputed presidential election.

Several high-level foreign officials, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Senator John Kerry, were in Kabul Saturday ahead of a long-delayed announcement by the Electoral Complaints Commission.

The ECC is investigating allegations of widespread fraud in the August 20 vote.

Preliminary election results gave Afghan President Hamid Karzai 54 percent of the vote. His main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has 28 percent. But the ECC's findings could push Mr. Karzai's lead below 50 percent, forcing a runoff.

The ECC on Saturday was said to be meeting with members of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, who will announce the final result.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke by phone to President Karzai Friday, as concerns grew over who will lead the country, and when.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was also in Kabul, and met with both Mr. Karzai and Abdullah this week. He told reporters late Friday that he urged both candidates to recognize the importance of the moment and rise to the occasion.

International officials have been urging both President Karzai and Abdullah to consider a power-sharing agreement.

Officials say, if needed, a runoff should be held within two weeks of the definitive announcement of first-round results, but many observers say this could be difficult to carry out.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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