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Afghans In Limbo Over Vote As Partial Results Due

Afghan women wait to cast their votes in Kandahar
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan election authorities were preparing on August 25 to publish the first partial results from last week's presidential election, but the tiny sample may do little to resolve a dispute over the outcome.

The country has been in political limbo since the election, with rival candidates claiming victory and alleging fraud.

Late on August 24, Finance Minister Hazrat Omar Zakhilwal said figures supplied to him as a member of the cabinet showed President Hamid Karzai leading with 68 percent of the vote and avoiding a second round.

A spokesman for Karzai's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, said those figures were false. Abdullah has also claimed to be in the lead while alleging massive fraud on Karzai's behalf.

The ballots were counted immediately after the vote on August 20 and tallies were posted at individual polling stations, but overall totals have not been released to the public while authorities carry out labourious checks.

Election commission spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor said the results of about 10 percent of the vote would be published on August 25, with figures to be updated daily.

The overall outcome would not be clear until September 3 when the full preliminary results are due, he added.

The United Nations has urged the candidates and voters to remain patient while the election commission checks the results.

No Majority

Polls taken before the election showed Karzai likely to lead but not with the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off against Abdullah.

The most recent of those polls was conducted more than a month before the vote, and Karzai received endorsements from some regional chieftains after the surveys were collected.

Taliban militants had vowed to disrupt the election with violence and mounted sporadic attacks across the country on election day, with rockets hitting numerous cities and gunmen battling police in Kabul.

Their attacks failed to prevent the election from going ahead but did seriously dampen turnout in southern areas.

Southern Pashtun areas are a major source of support for Karzai, so the low turnout could make a second round more likely. Southern areas are also the places where many of the fraud allegations have taken place.

A separate Electoral Complaints Commission says it is looking into at least 250 complaints of irregularities, including at least 35 it considers a priority.

The election is a test for U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy of scaling up the military presence in Afghanistan in a bid to reverse Taliban gains.

Violence is at its worst levels since the militants were toppled in 2001. More than 30,000 extra U.S. troops have arrived in Afghanistan this year, bringing the total Western force size above 100,000 for the first time, including 63,000 Americans.

More U.S., British and other allied troops have died in Afghanistan since March than in the entire period from 2001-2004.