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Afghanistan Seeks Speedy Probe into Election Irregularities - 2004-10-11


Afghanistan's election body says it hopes to finish its probe into possible voting fraud and other irregularities before final results are announced sometime in the coming weeks.

The Joint Electoral Management Body says it will continue to take complaints concerning Afghanistan's first presidential election until Tuesday afternoon.

A plurality of candidates has alleged some voters may have cast multiple ballots and that some election officials illegally coached people on whom to vote for.

Most of the contenders initially vowed to boycott the entire election process, but such threats have died down since the Election Body announced its investigation, shortly after voting ended Saturday.

Ray Kennedy, vice-chairman of the joint Afghan-U.N. election body, says he understands how important the fraud issue is to the candidates. He says he believes the investigation will be completed before the final election results are announced, but adds that election officials do not want to rush things.

"We want the investigation to take its course," added Mr. Kennedy. "It is important to do this right."

Mr. Kennedy also says a panel of independent foreign officials will oversee the investigation, in order to address some candidates' claims that the election body is partial to transitional President Hamid Karzai, also a candidate.

"One of the candidates' complaints has always been related to the JEMB [Election Body] itself," he said. "Setting up this [international] panel, we believe, is a useful measure under the circumstances."

Final results are not expected for several weeks, as millions of ballots will be counted manually, although preliminary tallies might be available within a matter of days.

Meanwhile, election officials continue to applaud the lack of violence during the vote.

Armed insurgents loyal to Afghanistan's former Taleban regime had vowed to disrupt the election, which they call a U.S. ploy to ensure foreign domination of the country.

Since voting began, five Afghan soldiers have been killed in skirmishes and by homemade mines. Security forces say this is far less serious than expected.

But the spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Major Scott Nelson, says coalition troops are still bracing for possible attacks by the Taleban and their allies. "We need to make sure we maintain our resolve and we do not get complacent until, there is an announcement of a new president-elect," said Major Nelson.

He says that coalition forces are optimistic that the anti-government insurgents have been decisively crippled, and will not be able to mount a significant further threat to Afghan security.

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