Vote Counting Resumes After Afghan Violence
The vote count in Afghanistan's historic election resumed Saturday with President Hamid Karzai far ahead of his rivals in early results, as a new surge in attacks left seven people dead, including two US soldiers.
Security experts had warned of a possible resurgence of violence after Saturday's election, which was largely peaceful despite threats of attack from loyalists of the hardline Islamic Taliban regime ousted in late 2001.
The US military said two US troops were killed Thursday in a landmine blast in the south-central province of Uruzgan, hotbed of a Taliban-led insurgency. Another five people were killed in eastern Kunar province when a remote-controlled bomb exploded after a crowd had gathered near a truck that had been set alight as it was delivering food to US bases, an Afghan official said.
Afghans fear return of violence
Many Afghans who voted in the country's first presidential election said they hoped it would herald a new era of peace in the rugged land, wracked by decades of war and insurgency. Vote counting started in most areas on Thursday after a delay caused by allegations of irregularities.
It resumed Saturday after a break Friday for the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, kicking off for the first time at the regional counting centers of western Herat, eastern Jalalabad and Bamiyan. "Counting has begun again everywhere -- in all eight regional counting centers," said Afghan electoral commission spokesman Aykut Tavsel.
Karzai steams ahead in estimated result
With just 0.7 percent of estimated total votes counted, US-backed Karzai, the pre-poll favorite, was far ahead with a 72 percent lead over his rivals. He was trailed by former education minister Yunus Qanooni with 11 percent, the Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body said on its website.
In third place with just over nine percent was Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostam and in fourth was ethic Hazara military strongman Mohammed Mohaqeq with 1.6 percent.
Afghanistan's only female candidate Masooda Jalal was lying fifth with 1.4 percent of the votes. The other 13 presidential candidates all had less that 1.1 percent of the ballots. The initial count included votes from only seven of the country's 34 provinces.
Allegations of fraud die down
The elections were marred by allegations of fraud and mismanagement after supposedly indelible ink used to mark voters' fingers and prevent multiple voting was found to wash off. An international panel of experts was appointed at the last minute to investigate the complaints, averting a boycott called by disgruntled candidates, some of whom alleged the vote was rigged to favor Karzai, and opening the way for the count to begin.