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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 October, 2004, 17:57 GMT 18:57 UK
Observers approve Afghan election
Afghan election workers pass ballot boxes along a line to be carried for vote counting in Kabul
Preliminary results are not expected for a few days
International observers have endorsed Afghanistan's first presidential election, rejecting opposition calls for a new poll amid reports of fraud.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said demands by 15 of the 18 presidential candidates to annul the poll were "unjustified".

The local Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan (FEFA) said the poll was "fairly democratic".

Saturday's poll was marred by claims of alleged flaws in the voting procedures.

The OSCE - which contributed to the 230 foreign monitors - acknowledged that there were some irregularities during the poll that should be investigated.

The problem was that anyone could vote several times. I voted five times myself
Ali Akbari, Mashhad (Iran) From

However, OSCE Ambassador Robert Barry said "the candidates' demand to nullify the election is unjustified and would not do service to the people of Afghanistan who came out yesterday, at great personal risk, to vote".

Meanwhile, FEFA - the single largest observer group - said that "a fairly democratic environment has generally been observed in the overall majority of the polling centres".

The UN, which helped organise the poll, has praised the "massive" turnout in the election.

More than 10 million people were registered to vote, many of them refugees living in Pakistan and Iran.

The ousted Taleban regime has dismissed the election as foreign-sponsored and has said it will continue its armed struggle.

However, fears that militants linked to the Taleban would carry out their threat to sabotage the vote appear to have been largely unfounded.

Ink stains

The vote was marred by reports that an ink used to stain voters' fingers to prevent them from casting their ballot more than once could be washed away.

Applying indelible ink to a voter's fingernail
The indelible ink had to be applied to the cuticle of the voter's fingernail

This prompted all the candidates opposing interim President Hamid Karzai - the favourite to win the race poll - to call for the election result to be annulled.

However, several candidates on Sunday appeared set to drop calls for a vote boycott.

Their representatives told the BBC they would instead accept the findings of an independent inquiry into alleged irregularities.

Mohammed Mohaqeq, one of Mr Karzai's main rivals, was the first to announce he was withdrawing his backing for the boycott.

Mr Mohaqeq said he wanted a UN commission to investigate the election and he would accept its ruling on its legitimacy.

Other candidates are also withdrawing calls for a boycott in favour of a more conciliatory approach, according to the BBC's Andrew North in Kabul.

President Karzai criticised the move as an affront to the hopes of the millions of Afghans who braved bad weather and the threat of terrorism to turn out to vote.

He told the BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme on Sunday that a commission would inquire into the alleged voting malpractices.

Counting centres have begun tallying the ballots but their task is unlikely to be completed soon - votes cast in far-flung reaches of the mountainous country will take days to arrive, some of them by donkey.

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