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Afghanistan on alert as bombings coincide with dubious election results

A senior official was killed in northern Afghanistan Wednesday while the death toll from a bombing in the southern city of Kandahar reached 43, officials said, as more results from last week's election were released.

A policeman stands at the site after the attack in Kandahar

Violence in Afghanistan continues after the election

Qari Jahangir, head of the justice department of the northern province of Kunduz, was driving to his office on Wednesday morning when a bomb placed in his car exploded in the centre of Kunduz city, Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi, the provincial police chief said.

He said Jahangir, who was the sole occupant of the vehicle, was killed and his car was badly damaged in the explosion.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid, speaking by phone from an undisclosed location, claimed that his fighters were behind the blast. He claimed the bomb, which was remotely detonated, killed three more officials in the vehicle.

Taliban-led attacks are on the rise in the northern region, which was relatively peaceful until recently except for sporadic attacks, mostly roadside bombs.

Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday's deadly blast in Kandahar province killed 43 people and wounded 65.

Death toll rises after truck bomb in Kandahar

People look at the destruction after the bomb attack in Kandahar

The Kandahar bomb hit those ending their Ramadan fast

Gholam Ali Wahdat, the police commander for the southern region, said earlier that 40 were killed and more than 64 other people, mostly civilians were wounded in the blast, when a truck bomb exploded in the centre of the city as people were breaking their Ramadan fast.

"It was a truck bomb. In total 40 to 41 people have been killed and over 65 other people have been wounded," he said.

Officials in the province had earlier said that they believed the explosion was caused by several explosive-laden vehicles that went off simultaneously.

Zelmai Ayoubi, spokesman for the provincial governor of Kandahar gave a different death toll, saying the blast killed 38 people, mostly civilians, and including four Pakistani workers, who were employed by a Japanese construction company.

The area, which is located near government offices, remained sealed off to traffic as police rescue teams were still searching for civilians trapped under rubble.

The blast destroyed dozens of houses, set alight a wedding hall and broke windows as far as one kilometer away.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but an interior ministry spokesman blamed the attack on Taliban-linked insurgents, who have struck repeatedly during campaigning for last week's vote.

The blast occurred as Kandahar residents had gathered at homes and restaurants to break their day-long fast. Afghanistan, where around 99 per cent of the population is Muslim, observes the holy month of Ramadan from dawn to dusk.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack in a statement issued by his office on Wednesday. It said the president held an emergency meeting with his security chiefs in Kabul and ordered them to gather information about the incident.

Commission offers partial results from presidential poll

Hamid Karzai

The IEC results show Karzai slightly ahead of his rival

The blast occurred around one hour after the Afghan Independent Election Commission announced partial results of country's presidential election, which the radical Islamist Taliban had urged voters to boycott.

A partial vote count showed Karzai narrowly leading his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, by 40.6 per cent to 38.7 per cent, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) said.

Out of the half-million ballots initially counted, the Western-backed Karzai had 212,927 votes or 40.6 percent, and former foreign minister Abdullah was on 202,889 votes or 38.6 percent, according to the IEC.

Karzai's camp earlier insisted it had triumphed in last Thursday's election, a pivotal moment in Afghanistan's troubled emergence from years of civil war and Taliban rule as Western troops battle to defeat a raging insurgency.

But Daud Najafi, the IEC's chief electoral officer, stressed that it was too early to tell with final results not due until September 3.

"I repeat again, these are partial results of about 10 percent of the overall vote," he told a news conference. "I repeat again, this will definitely change tomorrow, the day after tomorrow. This is only partial results," the official said.

The commission has said it expects to release the final results around September 17, but should the trend seen on Tuesday continue, a run-off between Karzai and Abdullah would be necessary.

Suspicions of vote-fixing heighten tensions

Presidential candidate and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah

Abdullah suspects foul play but tones down his rhetoric

The neck-and-neck race between the two increasingly bitter rivals has been tainted with claims of fraud and ballot-stuffing, most of it in favor of Karzai, whose camp has been claiming victory since shortly after polls closed.

Figures released by Karzai's campaign office, gathered from polling stations by his representatives, show him winning with between 55 and 62 percent of the vote.

The Karzai office figures show total turnout at less than 5.5 million, of registered voters numbering between 15 million and 17 million.

Analysts have said that such low turnout could raise questions about the legitimacy of the victor, possibly threatening to spark widespread unrest.

The results of Afghanistan's elections could deepen the divides that plague the shaky nation. Abdullah has his powerbase in the north, among ethnic Tajiks, while Karzai is influential in the Pashtun-dominated south.

Abdullah, the urbane former minister whose energetic campaign stymied Karzai's hopes of an easy re-election, again accused the president of rampant vote fraud but damped down fears of violence linked to a disputed outcome.

"I'm urging the Afghans to be calm and to be patient and to show responsibility," he told reporters at his home in Kabul. "I think that the people don't want to resort to violence," he said.

"All our efforts were in order to bring stability to this country, and to bring greater governance and greater rule of law."


Editor: Chuck Penfold

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