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Page last updated at 07:17 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 08:17 UK

Karzai 'to answer poll criticism'

Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 17 September 2009
Initial results gave Mr Karzai nearly 55% of the vote

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is set to respond to claims by a UN-backed panel that he did not win recent elections, the US Secretary of State has said.

Hillary Clinton was speaking after the watchdog was understood to have confirmed that Mr Karzai had not gained enough valid votes for an outright win.

Under the poll rules, Mr Karzai should now face his rival in a runoff.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said a second round was "very important", AFP reported.

But Mr Karzai could also seek a power-sharing deal with his main rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

Mrs Clinton told reporters in Washington that Mr Karzai was "going to announce his intentions" on Tuesday, in response to the investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).

Mrs Clinton did not indicate what Mr Karzai's response might be, but said she was "encouraged at the direction that the situation is moving".

Meanwhile Mr Karzai's own spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president would wait for the results to be announced by the Afghan-led Independent Electoral Commission (IEC).

The IEC is widely regarded as pro-Karzai, and it is not clear whether it will accept the ECC's findings.

Run-off likely

In its much-anticipated report on Monday, the ECC said it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" and deducted hundreds of thousands of votes from the main candidates.

Hillary Clinton: "I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution"

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.

Under the Afghan constitution, the EEC's report passes to the Afghan-led Independent Election Commission (IEC) - appointed by Mr Karzai - which can decide whether to call for a run-off.

The Afghan president has previously refused a run-off, insisting he won the election outright.

Initial results released last month gave him nearly 55% of votes, and Mr Abdullah 28%.

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.

But following the ECC report on Monday, a UN spokeswoman said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had urged Mr Karzai to respect the constitutional process and allow a run-off.

According to respected US-based group Democracy International, Mr Karzai's share of the vote has now fallen to 48.29%, and Mr Abdullah has 31.5%.

About 1.3 million votes for Karzai were invalid, about a quarter of the total cast, the group added.

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

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.

But Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US could not wait for a resolution of the election crisis before taking a decision on troop levels.

A spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan praised the ECC for working with "integrity" to investigate complaints about August's election.

"We have complete faith in the work of the Electoral Complaints Commission," said Aleem Siddique.

He said the UN expected the IEC to implement the EEC's orders, "so that we can move towards a final certified result or to a runoff if that's required".

IEC 'stalling'

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.

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

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 IEC, which will make the final announcement on the election outcome.

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.

The BBC's Barbara Plett at the United Nations says the Americans - and their Nato allies - are looking for a second round or a national unity government to inject some legitimacy into the Afghan elections.

They say the government must be legitimate if the US public can be convinced it is worth sending more soldiers to fight in Afghanistan.

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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