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Preliminary Afghan Election Results Give Karzai Clear Majority

For the first time since the August 20 presidential election in Afghanistan, the preliminary vote totals now show incumbent Hamid Karzai with a percentage high enough to avoid a runoff. But the country's electoral watchdog, backed by the U.N., says it has found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud." It is ordering a partial recount.

With more than 91 percent of polling stations tabulated Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission says President Hamid Karzai is now the clear leader. The incumbent has 54 percent of valid votes - above the absolute majority needed to avoid a second round of balloting. His closest challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has 28 percent.

The latest preliminary results were released as the Election Complaints Commission ordered a recount of votes from polling stations where it suspects fraud. The ECC, which has a majority of members appointed by the United Nations, says returns must be recounted and audited from any polling station where 100 percent turnout was reported or any presidential candidate received more than 95 percent of total votes.

Canadian Grant Kippen is the ECC chairman:

"Well we have no idea how extensive it is," Kippen said. "We believe, based on the investigations, in decisions that we have already taken but there is some coalition based on the criteria that we layout on our order and that is why we are asking the Election Commission or ordered the Election Commission to take this action in term of the order in a recount."

Campaign committees for a number of presidential candidates have accused others of stuffing ballot boxes or throwing out votes. Many of the most serious complaints allege supporters of President Karzai rigged the results at polling stations on Election Day in three provinces - strongholds of the incumbent.

The Taliban had vowed to disrupt the election and retaliate against voters. But the credibility of the election now appears more vulnerable to the fraud allegations than the lower-than-expected turnout due to insurgent violence.

The latest attack in Kabul blamed on the Taliban took place just outside the military gate at the capital's international airport.

Kabul Police criminal investigations chief Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada says a suicide car bomber struck a convoy of NATO vehicles at the airport's east gate.

The police official says three civilians died and six others were injured as they were passing by on the road.

Also reported injured are two American soldiers and one from Belgium.

NATO, meanwhile, has acknowledged for the first time that Afghan civilians were killed in last week's controversial air strike in Kunduz province. German commanders ordered the strike on two fuel tankers believed to have been hijacked by the Taliban.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Parliament in Berlin, is calling for patience to ascertain precisely what happened while defending her country's military mission in Afghanistan.

Ms. Merkel says there should be no cover-up and it is also unacceptable to make premature judgments.

A Canadian major general has been appointed to lead NATO's investigation into the attack.

An Afghan rights group and others claim dozens of civilians were killed in the air strike. International military officials have said they believed they were targeting a group of 120 insurgents.