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New Poll Shows Afghan President Leading Race for a Second Term

A new poll shows Afghan President Hamid Karzai leading the race for presidential elections next week -- but not by enough to avoid a run-off.

A survey released Friday by the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute says Mr. Karzai is currently favored by 44 percent of voters. His closest competitor, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister, is in second place with 26 percent. The poll gives candidate Ramazan Bashardost 10 percent, and Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, doubled his support to six percent.

A candidate must win more than 50 percent of the vote for a first-round victory.

With less than a week to go before next Thursday's vote, the top presidential contenders held rallies across the country Friday in search of votes.

President Karzai met with supporters in the western city of Herat. Abdullah Abdullah traveled to the central province of Dai Kundi, and Ashraf Ghani campaigned in southern Zabul province.

Also Friday, a New York-based human rights group is accusing President Karzai of making "an unthinkable deal" to win re-election. Human Rights Watch says Mr. Karzai has allowed a controversial marriage law to go into effect with only minimal changes in order to win votes.

Critics of the law say it legalizes marital rape by requiring a woman to have sex with her husband every four days, and that it prohibits a woman from leaving her home without her husband's permission.

Afghan officials said earlier this year that the most contentious elements of the law had been dropped. But Human Rights Watch says a final version of the law published late last month still allows a husband to deny his wife food if she refuses to have sex.

The law first sparked international outrage -- including condemnation from the United States, the United Nations and NATO -- after it was signed by Mr. Karzai in March, and the Afghan leader quickly suspended its implementation.

The law only applies to Shi'ite Muslims, who make up less than 20 percent of Afghanistan's population.