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Final Afghan Election Results Due Amid Fraud Probe

Election workers count votes at their computer terminals at the Independent Election Commission headquarters in Kabul.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan election authorities will announce the long-delayed tally from last month's presidential vote on September 16, a spokesman said, although a recount ordered over fraud means the final outcome could still be weeks away.

The complete preliminary result comes nearly four weeks after the August 20 election and the country has since been mired in political uncertainty amid accusations of ballot stuffing.

"We will give the result. It will be 100 percent," said Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission.

The result is likely to show President Hamid Karzai the winner, but not by a big enough margin to eliminate the chance of a fraud probe overturning the outcome before it is declared final.

The fraud accusations have come at a difficult time for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has already ordered thousands of additional troops to Afghanistan, and is expected to make a decision in coming weeks about whether to send more.

On September 15, his top military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said more troops were needed, although he did not say how many.

Accusations of fraud in the Afghan election increase the political risk for Obama of sending more troops with Americans unhappy at the prospect of their soldiers dying to defend a government whose legitimacy could be called into question.

'Clear And Convincing'

The numbers so far suggest that fraud would have to be found to have taken place on a huge scale to overturn a first round victory by Karzai.

In a tally of 92 percent of polling stations released last week, Karzai held more than 54 percent of votes, giving him the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off against his main challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

A UN-backed watchdog, the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), has ordered a recount of about 10 percent of polling stations after finding what it called "clear and convincing evidence of fraud."

The ECC must sign off on any final result, and its fraud probe could potentially force a second round if it invalidates enough ballots to put Karzai below the 50 percent threshold needed to win in a single round and avoid a run-off.

The recount process has only just begun and could take weeks or even months.

A second round, if needed, would have to be held within two weeks of the final result being declared, although there has been some concern that this could be difficult if it is delayed into winter when travel is difficult in Afghanistan.