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    International Envoys Pledge Continued Support for Afghanistan

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    Senior international envoys vowed continued strong support for Afghanistan during strategy talks in Paris on Wednesday.  This comes amid rising violence in Afghanistan and on the heels of the country's controversial elections.

    Senior envoys from France, the United States and about two dozen other countries and organizations met in Paris to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

    Speaking afterward, they pledged the international community's continued support.  They said the meeting was a routine assessment of strategy and that it had not been called to deal with last month's controversial elections in the country.

    U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke played down allegations of widespread election fraud.

    "During that process, there are going to be many claims of irregularities; that happens in every democracy," said Holbrooke.  "We recently had a senatorial election in Minnesota, which took seven months to determine the outcome.  There were so many charges of irregularities.  It certainly will not take that long in Afghanistan.  But that happens in democracies, even when they are not in the middle of a war," he added.

    The latest vote tallies show incumbent President Hamid Karzai in the lead, but still shy of the 50 percent of the votes needed to avoid a run-off election.

    Holbrooke also down played reports of U.S. unhappiness with President Karzai, saying that Washington has no preferred candidate.

    "Our advocacy is for a fair process overseen by the Independent Election Commission, taking into account the decisions of the Election Complaints Commission -- a process which then elects a government that is legitimate and reflects the will of the people who voted," he said.

    French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner insisted the meeting was about the future of international aid efforts in Afghanistan, not judging the elections.  But he noted that success depends on the ability to establish security and said Western troops could not leave Afghanistan until that has been established.

    In Afghanistan, an explosion on Wednesday east of Kabul ripped through a crowd of government officials inaugurating a mosque.  The country's deputy intelligence chief was among those killed.  

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