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    Afghan Election Recount Begins Before Final, Preliminary Results Released

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    Afghan election officials have begun recounting disputed ballots from the August 20 presidential election. The recount amid fraud allegations leaves open the possibility of a second round for the disputed election.

    The recount, ordered by the Election Complaints Commission, began this week and comes before the full, election results have been announced.  The final preliminary numbers have been held up because of what the government-run Independent Election Commission describes as "technical problems" with the official forms for the remaining untabulated two percent of ballot boxes.

    Noor Mohammed Noor, an IEC spokesman has told VOA's Afghan Service those forms are being sent back to the provinces for clarification.

    The nearly complete results show President Hamid Karzai with a commanding lead over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. The incumbent is currently above the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff election.

    But the U.N.-backed Election Complaints Commission is ordering a significant recount of ballots from every province - covering 10 percent of all polling stations.  

    Canadian Grant Kippen is the chairman of the ECC, of which three of the five members are appointed by the U.N. Secretary General.

    "We have received 2,300 complaints of which we have prioritized those complaints and over 700 have been deemed to be what we call a "Priority A' complaint, of high priority," he said.  "Those are the complaints that we are actually dealing with at this point in time."

    VOA News asked Kippen if the on-site investigations of massive ballot box stuffing and other acts of election fraud will take weeks or, as some predict, months to complete.

    "I really cannot give you an answer in terms of a definitive date by which we are going to be done," said Kippen.  "We are dealing with the complaints received, this order that we issued last week to the Election Commission.  There is this audit and recount process.  It is difficult to put a timeline to both of these activities at this point."

    A runoff would likely have to be delayed until next year if not held very soon to avoid the impending winter, which would not make balloting logistically possible in much of rural Afghanistan.

    Presidential candidate Abdullah says if the results are delayed until next year then Afghanistan should have a transitional government put into place.

    "I would be more comfortable with the results coming out before the winter, yes, sooner rather than later," he said. "Should that other scenario, which is not preferable, happen, on that I think a sort of caretaker government has to be put together preferably with not Mr. Karzai at the top."

    Abdullah says he should also not be the leader of such a temporary administration.

    Abudllah's campaign contends that up to one of every four votes cast in last month's election are under suspicion of being tainted.

    The foreign policy chief for the European Union, Javier Solana, has told reporters in Brussels that while he would like to see the process go faster the most important aspect is to have credible results in the end.

    German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir says the fraud allegations cannot be ignored and his European counterparts will insist the complaints be thoroughly scrutinized.

    Many Western countries initially hailed the election as a victory for the democratic process.  The Taliban, ousted from power by a U.S. invasion in 2001, had vowed to disrupt balloting.

    The United States has the largest military force in the country among the 42-nation coalition fighting the eight-year-old war against the insurgents.  

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