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309afghan opposition alleges electoral fraud

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  • Greg Cannon
    Oct 9, 2004
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      http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/afghan_election
      Opposition Alleges Afghan Election Fraud

      1 hour, 17 minutes ago

      By DANIEL COONEY, Associated Press Writer

      KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan (news - web sites)'s
      first direct presidential election was thrust into
      turmoil hours after it started Saturday when all 15
      candidates challenging interim leader Hamid Karzai
      alleged fraud over the ink meant to ensure people
      voted only once and vowed to boycott the results.

      But electoral officials rejected their demand that the
      vote be called off, saying an apparent mix-up with ink
      used to mark voters' thumbs was not severe enough to
      halt the historic vote. They said they would rule on
      the legitimacy of the vote later.

      "The vote will continue because halting the vote at
      this stage is unjustified and would deny these people
      their right to vote," said Ray Kennedy, vice chairman
      of the joint United Nations (news - web sites)-Afghan
      electoral body. "There have been some technical
      problems but overall it has been safe and orderly."

      Karzai said the fate of the vote was in the hands of
      the electoral body, but he added that in his view "the
      election was free and fair ... it is very legitimate"

      "Who is more important, these 15 candidates, or the
      millions of people who turned out today to vote?"
      Karzai said. "Both myself and all these 15 candidates
      should respect our people � because in the dust and
      snow and rain, they waited for hours and hours to
      vote."

      Election officials said workers at some voting
      stations mistakenly swapped the permanent ink meant to
      mark thumbs with normal ink meant for ballots, but
      insisted the problem was caught quickly.

      The boycott cast a pall over what had been a joyous
      day in Afghanistan, where millions of Afghans braved
      threats of Taliban violence to crowd polling stations
      for an election aimed at bringing peace and prosperity
      to a country nearly ruined by more than two decades of
      war. The Taliban was ousted by a U.S.-led coalition in
      late 2001.

      Voters queued for hours outside polling stations in
      bombed-out schools, blue-domed mosques and
      bullet-pocked hospitals to cast ballots, while more
      than 100,000 soldiers, police, U.S. troops and other
      security forces deployed to thwart attacks.

      The international community spent nearly $200 million
      staging the vote. At least 12 election workers, and
      dozens of Afghan security forces, died in the past few
      months as the nation geared up for the vote.

      Karzai went into the election a heavy favorite, but
      needed to win a majority to avoid a runoff against the
      second-place finisher. Results were expected to take
      some time to tally because of the inaccessibility of
      many Afghan towns and villages.

      The opposition candidates, meeting at the house of
      Uzbek candidate Abdul Satar Sirat, signed a petition
      saying they would not recognize the results because
      the glitches with ink opened the way for widespread
      fraud.

      "Today's election is not a legitimate election. It
      should be stopped and we don't recognize the results,"
      said Sirat, a former aide to Afghanistan's last king
      and a minor candidate given little chance of winning.

      U.N. spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the ink
      problem was not as pervasive as the candidates
      claimed.

      "I don't think we can lose sight of the perspective.
      There are 23,000 polling stations in the country. We
      do not have indications it (the ink mix-up) was to a
      great extent," he said.

      U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad arrived at Sirat's
      house after Karzai's challengers reiterated their
      charges in a second meeting. He made no comment other
      than to say he was there "only to help."

      Khalilzad, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in
      Afghanistan, has been widely criticized for perceived
      favoritism for Karzai, and he is seen by many Afghans
      as a puppet-master. After his arrival, several Afghans
      gathered outside the house joked that a resolution to
      the crisis was near because "the big man has arrived."

      The issue of the ink was crucial because officials
      said before the vote that many people had received
      more than one registration card for the election by
      mistake. Vote organizers argued that the indelible ink
      would prevent people from voting twice, even if they
      had more than one card. About 10.5 million
      registration cards were handed out ahead of the
      election, a staggering number that U.N. and Afghan
      officials say was inflated by widespread double
      registration. Human rights groups said some people
      obtained four or five voter cards, thinking they would
      be able to use them to receive humanitarian aid.

      Afghanistan has an estimated population of 25 million.

      Massooda Jalal, the only woman in the field and one of
      the candidates to sign the petition, said she decided
      to protest after getting calls of complaint from her
      constituents.

      "The ink that is being used can be rubbed off in a
      minute. Voters can vote 10 times!" she said.

      Another candidate, ethnic Tajik newspaper editor Hafiz
      Mansoor, also complained.

      "Very easily they can erase the ink," he said. "This
      is a trick that is designed to clear the way for
      cheating."

      Earlier in the day, Karzai, accompanied by heavily
      armed bodyguards, voted in a room at what was once the
      prime minister's residence. He rubbed his thumb to
      show reporters the ink did not rub off.

      "It is not important who wins, but it is important
      that Afghanistan makes its own future," he told
      reporters before the call for the boycott surfaced.
      "This is a very great day. God is very kind to us."

      All roads leading to Kabul and other major cities were
      heavily guarded and closed to most traffic. Heightened
      security measures appeared to work, despite plenty of
      signs Taliban rebels were trying to disrupt the polls.

      On Friday, a bomb-sniffing dog discovered a fuel truck
      rigged with anti-tank mines and laden with 10,000
      gallons of gasoline that three Pakistanis planned to
      detonate in the southern city of Kandahar, said Col.
      Ishaq Paiman, the Defense Ministry deputy spokesman.
      The blast would have killed hundreds and "derailed"
      balloting in the south, he said.

      The election offered a stark contrast in a nation that
      has endured many forms of imposed rule in the past 30
      years � among them monarchy, Soviet occupation,
      warlord fiefdoms and the repressive Taliban theocracy
      ousted by the U.S.-led invasion following the Sept. 11
      terrorist attacks.

      "I came here to vote so we can have democracy and
      stability and peace in Afghanistan," said Aziz Ullah,
      a 19-year-old Kabul shopkeeper. "There used to only be
      a transfer of power by force or killing."

      Women voted at separate booths from men, in keeping
      with the nation's conservative Islamic leaning.

      The European Union (news - web sites) and the
      Organization for Security and Cooperation (news - web
      sites) in Europe sent observer missions, but neither
      said it planned to pass judgment on the fairness of
      the process, saying it would not be appropriate to try
      to hold Afghanistan to international standards. A
      small U.S. observer team also was monitoring the vote.

      ___

      Associated Press writers Stephen Graham in Kandahar,
      Burt Herman in Mazar-e-Sharif and Amir Shah and Paul
      Haven in Kabul contributed to this report.