Karzai under pressure after poll

KABUL: President Hamid Karzai was Tuesday under growing pressure to end Afghanistan's electoral chaos as Washington called for an early resolution after more than a million fraudulent votes were thrown out.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she expected Karzai, whose administration is supported by the West in the face of a bloody Taliban insurgency, to reveal his intentions later Tuesday.

Voicing hope of a resolution "in the next several days", Clinton said: "He is going to announce his intentions. I am going to let him do that but I am encouraged at the direction that the situation is moving."

The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) confirmed massive fraud in Afghanistan's August 20 election, raising the prospect that Karzai will be forced into a second round run-off or have to forge a unity government.

The ECC late Monday threw out ballots from 210 polling stations after finding "clear and convincing evidence" of fraud, including entire ballot boxes with papers filled in with the same pen or same mark. Related article: Clinton hopeful Afghan vote crisis resolved soon

Independent monitors said the ECC's order had invalidated 1.3 million votes about a quarter of the total cast in an election already marred by low turnout owing to Taliban violence.

Most of the ballot-stuffing allegations were made against Karzai, who led preliminary results with about 55 percent of the vote. Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had around 28 percent.

The ECC refused to divulge corrected results, but one Western diplomat and respected election monitor Democracy International said Karzai's share of the vote had now fallen to about 48 percent not enough for outright victory. Related article: US Marines still leading Afghanistan's army

Karzai, while acknowledging small-scale irregularities, has consistently rubbished claims of widespread fraud as "totally fabricated".

The president made no public comment after the ECC announcement. But he did pledge Monday to "fully respect the constitutional order" in talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, according to a UN spokeswoman.

There are signs that the patience of Karzai's traditional backers in the United States is wearing thin, as President Barack Obama wrestles with a fateful decision on whether to deploy thousands more troops to Afghanistan.

After the ECC announcement, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: "It is going to be incredibly important for the world to see that Afghan leaders are willing to make this process legitimate."

Gibbs did not say whether Washington wanted Karzai to agree to a re-run election or to embrace a national unity government joined by Abdullah two options now being raised by White House advisers.

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and US Senator John Kerry both said at the weekend that it would be "irresponsible" to send more troops to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban before the election is resolved.

Faced with fears that the IEC which Abdullah says is stacked with Karzai loyalists -- may not accept the ECC findings, there were calls in Kabul too for quick action.

A Western official close to the voting process said that Karzai and his cabinet are "bending towards accepting a run-off".

"He can't take on the international community and expect continued support. It's just not going to happen," the official added.

Abdullah meanwhile told CNN he was prepared for a second round of voting while at the same time keeping the door "open to other options". He did not specify what the options were.

The UN spokesman in Kabul, Aleem Siddique, called on the IEC to "move swiftly to announce either a final certified result or the requirement for a second round".

But time is short for a run-off election to be organized with Afghanistan's harsh winter looming.

And tribal leaders who hold sway over thousands of voters in their fiefdoms have warned of widespread disaffection with the political process. Taliban attacks and intimidation had already caused many voters to stay home in August.