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Partial Vote Recount Starts In Afghanistan

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Kabul on August 20.
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan officials have started a partial vote recount from last month's presidential election in a long-awaited procedure due to bring to an end weeks of uncertainty over the ballot, a UN-backed watchdog has said.

Preliminary results from the August 20 election show incumbent Hamid Karzai winning in a single round, but if enough of his ballots are thrown out in the process he could still face a run-off against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has decided to allow Afghan election officials to use only a sample of votes from polling stations with suspected irregularities to speed up the recounting process.

In a statement on September 25, the ECC said the process had officially kicked off as election officials and observes started selecting and auditing samples from polling stations.

"Yesterday, in the presence of candidate agents and observers, the samples of 313 ballot boxes were randomly selected to be audited in detail," it said.

The process is expected to take about two weeks, officials have suggested.

The ECC said earlier it had found "clear and convincing evidence of fraud" and ordered a recount of votes from polling stations with suspiciously large numbers of votes or where one candidate won more than 95 percent.

Abdullah has condemned the election as rigged.

Karzai acknowledges that some fraud took place but says it was exaggerated by the Western media and international observers. His staff say that the recount is highly unlikely to overturn his first round victory.

A European Union observer mission says more than one-quarter of all ballots, including more than a third of those cast for Karzai, were "suspicious."