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Karzai Widens Lead in Afghan Presidential Election

With partial results in, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai saw his slender lead widen Wednesday as the second batch of election returns were announced.

President Hamid Karzai has widened his lead over former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.

The tabulation of 17 percent of all returns, announced by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission Wednesday, shows the incumbent with a lead of 90,000 votes over his closest challenger.

Mr. Karzai now has about a nine percent lead, compared to just two percent after Tuesday's results. The president will need a simple majority of more than 50 percent to a run-off election against Mr. Abdullah.

Election officials and analysts caution the vote totals released are still too small to draw any conclusions about the outcome, which is already tainted by widespread voter fraud allegations.

Attention was diverted from the election results by the deadliest suicide bombing in the country in more than a year.

Officials blame the Taliban for setting off a truck bomb in Kandahar two hours after the initial election results were released Tuesday. At least 43 Afghans died in the blast, which destroyed several residential buildings.

The explosion occurred near a Japanese construction company, government offices and a guest house popular with foreigners.

Some Kandahar residents, such as Haji Toryali, are questioning the ability of the government and the foreign troops to provide security.

Toryali says says if the foreigners cannot provide security for the people - something the government must also ensure - then the foreigners should leave Afghanistan.

There are about 100,000 foreign troops under either NATO or U.S. command in the country.

Kandahar is President Karzai's home province and also has a significant Taliban presence.

The insurgents had vowed to disrupt the election, which is seen as a key test of the country's fledging democratic system of government.

Meanwhile, in Paktika the provincial government says a group of motorcycle-riding Taliban stormed a hospital there. Afghan and coalition forces responded killing at least 14 of the insurgents and rescuing the hospital staff.