Afghan election fraud crisis deepens

KABUL — Afghanistan's election crisis deepened Saturday as President Hamid Karzai resisted pressure to accept fraud rulings that could force him into a runoff with his main challenger.

Three more American service members were reported killed in separate bombings as the United States and its international partners sought a way out of Afghanistan's political impasse, a crisis that threatens the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the future of the military mission.

A U.N.-backed panel had been expected to release findings Saturday from its investigation into allegations of widespread fraud — most of it favoring Karzai — in the Aug. 20 election. Preliminary figures showed Karzai won with more than 54 percent of the vote.

Still, Karzai could face a runoff with his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, if the complaints panel invalidates enough ballots to push the incumbent's total below 50 percent.

Announcement of the commission's findings was delayed as commission members spent Saturday in meetings with Afghan election officials and double-checking calculations, according to people familiar with the talks.

Karzai has refused to commit to accepting the panel's findings before they're released, even though his campaign has expressed confidence that the president will remain above 50 percent, eliminating a runoff.

Karzai's stand has raised concern that he may challenge the findings, further delaying proclamation of a winner.

Afghan law declares the U.N.-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission the final arbiter on fraud allegations. However, Karzai supporters on the separate Independent Election Commission, which must order a runoff, have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process.

A second round of balloting must be held before the coming of winter, which usually begins in mid November. Once heavy snows fall in the mountain passes, a runoff would have to wait until spring, leaving the country in limbo for months as the Taliban gains strength.

Fearing the political crisis will worsen, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have telephoned Karzai and Abdullah to express concern over the impasse.

The political crisis coincides with a sharp rise in fighting.

A NATO statement said the three U.S. troops died Friday in bombings.

Deaths last week

As of Saturday, at least 796 U.S. troops have died in the Afghanistan war. Identifications as reported by the U.S. military and not previously published:

Army Spc. George W. Cauley, 24, Walker, Minn.; died Oct. 11 in Bagram of wounds suffered from explosion Oct. 7 in Helmand province.

Marine Lance Cpl. Alfonso Ochoa Jr., 20, Armona, Calif.; combat Oct. 10; Farah province.

Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron J. Taylor, 27, Bovey, Minn.; combat Oct. 9; Helmand province.

Afghan election fraud crisis deepens 10/17/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 17, 2009 11:32pm]

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