KABUL: Officials involved in flawed Afghan elections are being removed ahead of next month’s run-off, the United Nations has said.

Earlier Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the UN wanted 200 top poll officials who were complicit in fraud replaced to make the vote credible.

World leaders have welcomed the acceptance by President Hamid Karzai that he had not won the poll outright.

It came after an UN-backed panel lowered Karzai’s vote share below 50 per cent. Vote-rigging on a massive scale was found.

The second round, between Karzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has been scheduled for 7 November. The president said it was “time to move forward to stability and national unity”.

There are indications that President Karzai and Abdullah may reach some kind of deal, meaning that the run-off may not be required.

Abdullah said he had spoken to Karzai by phone, in what is said to be their first confirmed contact since the first round in August.

“We are completely ready for the second round,” the former foreign minister said, urging officials to organise a “free, fair and credible” election. Abdullah said a coalition government was unlikely, but if elections proved impossible for “practical reasons” the two rivals needed to talk to find an alternative solution.

There are concerns that holding a second round of voting in November could lead to a repeat of August’s massive fraud, as well as logistical problems caused by winter weather, which could leave much of the north of the country inaccessible. Also, AFP news agency quoted Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt as saying the European Union would not have enough time to mobilise a large contingent of observers for the run-off.

EU monitors observing the August elections said that up to a quarter of votes counted showed indications of fraud.

It will be a massive task to get so many new officials in place in time for the run-off.

But the UN mission in Kabul says the business of removing some 200 officials and recruiting new personnel had already begun before yesterday’s

announcement of a second round.

Speaking in New York yesterday, Mr Ban said the UN had learned “quite a painful lesson” after seeing the widespread fraud in August.

“We realised that it was quite difficult for a young democracy to stand on its own, even with strong international assistance, particularly by the UN,” he said.

“We will also try to visit all the polling stations to make sure that no such fraud can happen,” he added.

The secretary general dismissed charges that the UN tried to cover up the extent of the widespread fraud in the first round vote, saying the issue had been not to hide it, but how best to deal with it.

“We have made it clear to the Afghan government, and we made it clear to the Security Council, that there was fraud we wanted to rectify,” he said.

“We really wanted to provide a full opportunity to all the Afghan people so they could cast their free vote to elect their next leader.”

Since the disputed first round of polling, there has been intensive Western lobbying of Afghanistan’s leaders to resolve the weeks of political paralysis.