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Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 13:42 UK

Afghan polling 'marked by fraud'

An Afghan worker of the election commission office unloads ballot boxes from a truck to be counted at the counting centre in Kandahar province
Election officials have said ballot counting is over

A leading group of election observers say there was widespread voting fraud and intimidation during Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan.

Stuffed ballot boxes, illiterate voters being told who to vote for and biased officials were cited by Afghanistan's Free and Fair Election Foundation.

However EU monitors said that despite widespread intimidation and violence, the vote was generally good and fair.

There have been rival claims of victory but no winner has been announced.

The chief EU observer said it was still early days in assessing the election.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation's provisional report also details accounts of multiple voting, under-age voting and election officials being ejected from polling stations by representatives of candidates.

COUNTING THE VOTES
Counting began after polls closed at 1700 local time on Thursday
Votes counted by hand at each of the 6,200 polling stations
Polling stations are required to post their results immediately, to prevent fraud
Candidates' representatives are also given immediate access to results
The counting appeared to be completed by Friday lunchtime, with official returns due over the weekend

The group said militants had sliced a finger off two voters in southern Kandahar province.

"Our observers saw two voters whose fingers, with the ink [a fraud prevention measure], was cut off in Kandahar. This was on election day," the foundation's chairman Nader Nadery was quoted as saying.

Threats of violence against voters came from local powerbrokers, the Taliban and rival political camps according to the foundation, which sent about 7,000 observers around the country.

Election officials have estimated turnout at between 40 and 50% which, if confirmed, would be well down on the 70% who voted in the first presidential election, in 2004.

Thursday's voting passed off relatively peacefully amid threats of Taliban attacks. The EU election observer mission said the election was well organised and was a victory for the Afghan people.

As official returns are collated, the leading contenders have said they will not incite street protests if they lose.

EU chief observer Philippe Morillion says " a lot of complaints" are being considered

The incumbent Hamid Karzai and his main rival Abdullah Abdullah gave the assurance to the US special envoy to the region, Richard Holbrooke.

Both men have claimed victory.

Pre-election opinion polls suggested Hamid Karzai was leading the field of candidates but might face a run-off with Mr Abdullah.

Partial, preliminary results are expected on Tuesday and final results are due to be released in September.

If neither candidate wins an outright majority of 50%, then the vote goes to a second round in October.

One of the other 31 contenders and the deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, Mirwais Yassini, told the BBC he believes both main camps practised widespread electoral fraud.

He has lodged 31 complaints with Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC).



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