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Karzai Defends Afghanistan Poll Results

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has welcomed the partial returns from the country's controversial August 20 presidential elections, which show him in the lead.

Mr. Karzai released a statement Wednesday praising Afghan officials for their "impartiality," despite a United Nations-backed commission's order to recount what it called questionable ballots.

On Tuesday, the U.N.'s Afghanistan Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" in the vote.

The ECC said returns must be recounted and audited from polling stations that reported 100 percent voter turnout, and from locations where more than 95 percent of the votes were for one candidate.

Afghanistan's election commission (IEC) said Tuesday that with nearly all the votes counted, Mr. Karzai had 54 percent of the vote, while his top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, received 28 percent.

In Washington Tuesday, the Obama administration said that a "legitimate" election process is vital to the future of U.S.-Afghan relations.

The allegations of electoral fraud come at a perilous time for Western leaders who have sent thousands of troops to battle a Taliban insurgency and support Mr. Karzai's government amid accusations of rampant corruption.