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Afghan Presidential Candidates Challenge Election - 2004-10-09

Afghanistan has completed its first-ever election for president, without the violence that some feared would disrupt the event. But the vote is not without controversy, as some candidates are questioning the validity of the election.

Polls have closed in Afghanistan's landmark presidential election, though it may take as many as two or three days for preliminary results to come in.

But the final outcome will also depend on investigations into alleged election fraud, which some candidates say should invalidate the voting.

One problem involves the failure at some voting places to mark voters thumbs with indelible ink, in order to prevent anyone from casting multiple ballots.

Speaking about halfway through the voting Saturday, former Justice Minister Abdul Satar Serat said he and other candidates would boycott the election because of such irregularities.

He also cited alleged intimidation by supporters of current transitional President Hamid Karzai.

"The election which was held today, it is not a legitimate election," said Abdul Satar Serat. "There is clear intervention and there [are] so many areas where they told the people, 'You should vote for Mr. Karzai.'"

Mr. Serat said he spoke for all the candidates challenging Mr. Karzai, although at least one has since distanced herself from the statement.

President Karzai said boycotting the election was anti-democratic, and that the other candidates should await the outcome of the election commission's investigations into the charges.

"They must admit and accept the will of the Afghan people, period," he said. "You can't just come in the middle of the day, in the middle of the elections and say its not fair."

Mr. Karzai said he was grateful election day was free of violent incidents, as had been feared.

Remnants of Afghanistan's former hard-line Taleban regime and their allies had vowed to disrupt the election, calling it a U.S.-run ploy to ensure foreign domination of the country.

The Taleban were overthrown in 2001 by a coalition of dissident Afghan militias and U.S. forces, after Taleban leaders refused to extradite accused terrorist leaders from the al-Qaida network.