Audit of suspect ballots to begin

KABUL: More than 3,000 ballot boxes containing votes suspected of having been cast fraudulently in Afghanistan’s presidential election have arrived in the capital Kabul for audit, officials said today.

Afghans went to the polls on August 20 to elect their president for the next five years, but allegations of widespread fraud — mainly directed against President Hamid Karzai — have delayed the announcement of a winner. Karzai leads the preliminary results with around 55 percent of the vote. He needs 50 percent plus one vote to be declared the winner.

His main rival Abdullah Abdullah has around 28 percent, and has been at the forefront of vote-rigging accusations against Karzai.

Pivotal to the outcome — which could be announced later this week — is the result of the audit of 3,063 ballot boxes that have been returned to Kabul from polling stations across the country for a sample audit.

Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Election Commission (IEC), told AFP the audit “will start within the next couple of days”.

Around ten percent of the 600-700 ballots in each box will be audited, another official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“A sample will be extrapolated to the larger population of ballot boxes — it is not a recount as such, but an audit,” she said.

“The process is supposed to start tomorrow (Sunday),” she said, adding that observers and candidates’ agents were being trained on Saturday in preparation. “If procedures are finalised tonight they will start tomorrow, otherwise the following day,” she said.

The fraud accusations that have dogged the Afghan vote have dismayed leaders of the international community that has supported the process as a step forward on Afghanistan’s road to democracy.

Vote-rigging allegations have been accompanied by controversy, as this week Peter Galbraith, deputy to the UN’s special envoy to Afghanistan, was sacked over disagreements with his boss, Kai Eide, over how to deal with the fraud.

Galbraith later said that Eide had been biased in favour of Karzai.

Two US soldiers killed

KABUL: An Afghan policeman conducting a joint operation with US soldiers opened fire on the Americans, killing two of them before fleeing, an Afghan official said on Saturday. The US military earlier said two American troops died in a firefight in Wardak on Friday, but declined to confirm any new details. Shahidullah Shahid, a spokesman for the Wardak provincial governor, said the policeman fired on the Americans while they were patrolling together Friday night, killing two and injuring two. Shahid said two of the officer’s relatives were in custody for necessary interrogation. - AP