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Afghan Election Commission Defends Release of Tainted Votes

Afghanistan's government-appointed election commission is denying bowing to political pressure to include a large number of tainted ballots in its preliminary polling results. The disputed votes have helped push President Hamid Karzai's total to more than the majority he will need to avoid a runoff election.

With just days to go before all preliminary vote totals are to be released, Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office is applauding the Independent Election Commission "for its efforts in pursuing the process in an impartial and faithful national spirit."

But Mr. Karzai's closest challenger, who is trailing with 28 percent of total votes counted so far is contending the election commission is not very independent nor is its process impartial.

Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah says his campaign will not accept the results, which he says have been tallied in violation of election laws.

With nearly 92 percent of the results from polling sites, President Karzai has 54 percent of the vote.

IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor, speaking to VOA News, denies allegations commissioners have bowed to political pressure and are including hundreds of thousands of tainted votes for the incumbent.

"No, that is not true. Our colleagues are not under pressure," he said. "And, according to my knowledge, they are going just normal with our procedures, our Constitution and also with election law."

The Election Complaints Commission, a U.N.-funded watchdog, is ordering all ballots from suspect polling stations recounted and audited.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, in a statement, is calling for patience as the "process" continues. The statement also calls on both commissions to "rigorously carry out their legal mandates to count all votes and to exclude all fraudulent votes."

The chairman of the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, Ahmad Nader Nadery, tells VOA that resolving the issue of the disputed ballots could delay certifying the election by weeks, but should not take months as some are suggesting.

"Taking the widespread reports of fraud and violations during the election it is very necessary and is a must that everybody shall agree on giving more time and resources to the ECC to look at all these complaints, concerns and allegations seriously and thoroughly and then come with the final result," he said.

A credible election is deemed crucial to the reputation of the mission by 42 nations and their 100,000 troops fighting the Taliban insurgency and attempting to preserve Afghanistan's fledgling democracy.

The U.S. military says four of its service members have died in what it calls a "complex attack" in the eastern part of Afghanistan. It is not releasing any further details.

Nearly 1,400 foreign military personnel have died in the country since the invasion eight years ago that ousted the Taliban from power.

Meanwhile, British commandos have freed a kidnapped New York Times reporter in Kunduz province. The correspondent's interpreter and one of the commandos died in the rescue operation. The reporter, Stephen Farrell, told his newspaper he escaped during a fierce firefight between the commandos and his Taliban captors.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is calling the rescue operation an act of "breathtaking heroism."

Farrell was abducted while interviewing witnesses at the site of last week's NATO air strike on two hijacked fuel trucks. Afghan rights officials say dozens of civilians were killed in the strike that had targeted Taliban insurgents.