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Page last updated at 21:35 GMT, Monday, 19 October 2009 22:35 UK

Karzai 'stripped of outright win'

Chair of ECC Grant Kippen: "We've found fraud irregularities around the country"

A panel probing fraud claims in the Afghan election has found Hamid Karzai did not gain enough valid votes for an outright win, the BBC understands.

Preliminary results from August's first round had placed Mr Karzai comfortably over the 50% plus one vote threshold needed to avoid a run-off.

But one poll monitoring group estimates that almost one million of Mr Karzai's votes have now been deemed invalid.

Poll rules say Mr Karzai must now face a run-off against his nearest rival.

In Washington, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected Mr Karzai to announce on Tuesday how he would "set the stage" to resolve the country's political crisis.

"I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution in line with the constitutional order in the next several days," Mrs Clinton said.

ANALYSIS
Lyse Doucet
Lyse Doucet, BBC News, Kabul

When this tangled process began, the ECC, the only electoral body composed of Afghan and foreign representation, was regarded as the "final arbiter".

The IEC's role was to ratify and announce the results. The IEC is accused by many of being too close to a president who appointed all its commissioners. It now says it needs "a day or two" to examine the details of the ECC report.

One source warned of a possible "train crash". Others are still hoping a compromise can emerge at this critical 11th hour.

President Karzai has repeatedly warned foreign countries not to interfere in the election process.

Sources say he firmly believes Western countries, in particular the United States and Britain, are conspiring to rob him of victory.

She added that she was "encouraged at the direction the situation is moving".

In its much-anticipated report on Monday, the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) deducted hundreds of thousands of votes from the main candidates.

Its investigation focused on 600 of the most serious complaints, and a sample audit of suspect votes at 3,377 polling stations. At 210 polling stations all the ballots were invalidated.

The panel said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" at the polling stations, which were across the country.

Initial results released last month had given him nearly 55% of votes, with former foreign minister Mr Abdullah on 28%.

The Afghan president has insisted he won the election outright, but EU observers have said as many as one in four votes cast were suspicious.

According to Democracy International, a US group involved in monitoring the Afghan election, Mr Karzai's share of the vote has now fallen to just over 48%.

The group says its own calculations - based on their understanding of the workings of the ECC - now give Mr Karzai 48.29% of the overall vote and Abdullah Abdullah 31.5%.

The US and the UK both really want Hamid Karzai to establish a more broadly based government, by including his rival Abdullah Abdullah
Mark Mardell, BBC North America editor

Although there has been no official reaction from Mr Karzai to the vote probe, he told the UN secretary general he would "fully respect the constitutional order", according to a UN spokeswoman quoted by AFP.

The BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul says the Afghan leader believes an election victory has been stolen from him and he is threatening to block attempts to hold any second round.

But Washington - which has been debating a request for 40,000 more US troops to be sent to Afghanistan - warned at the weekend no more soldiers would be deployed until a political resolution was reached.

A spokesman for the UN in Afghanistan, Aleem Siddique, said on Monday they now expected the IEC to "swiftly" announce either final results or a runoff.

AFGHAN ELECTION BODIES
Election Commission
Constitutional body appointed by Afghan president to oversee polls
Registers voters, runs polling stations, issues results
Accountable to Afghan parliament and people
Electoral Complaints Commission
Independent panel, two of its five members are Afghans
Investigates allegations of fraud and passes findings to IEC
Reports to IEC but law states IEC must accept ECC findings

In the last few days Western leaders and diplomats have engaged in a rapid round of diplomacy to get Mr Karzai to accept the election results.

But our correspondent says that for now that pressure does not seem to have worked.

The ECC launched its investigation in the wake of the 20 August vote as allegations of mass fraud began to emerge.

The panel reports to the Independent Election Commission (IEC), which will make the final announcement on the election outcome.

The IEC is widely regarded as pro-Karzai, but it is legally bound to accept the ECC's findings.

Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on 30 September 2009
Ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah is Hamid Karzai's nearest rival

However, the Canadian head of the ECC, Grant Kippen, told the BBC on Monday his panel's investigation "met international standards and was open, thorough and transparent".

Diplomats have accused the IEC of stalling to give the president more time to reach a deal with Mr Abdullah, possibly on power-sharing to avoid a run-off.

Even if a second round is required, many analysts have said Mr Karzai, a Pashtun from the country's largest ethnic group, would probably still win.

With violence at its worst levels across Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, there are warnings the ongoing political paralysis will only embolden the militants.



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