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CHARGES OF FRAUD BLOCK KARZAI'S VICTORY CLAIM

KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced Wednesday that President Hamid Karzai won 54.6 percent of the vote in the national elections Aug. 20, but European Union election observers said 1.5 million votes should be investigated under fraud standards that the commission approved this summer.

The observers said Karzai received about 1.1 million of those questionable votes, runner-up Abdullah Abdullah got 300,000 and the rest of the suspect votes went to other presidential candidates.

Analysts said the pool of questionable votes was sufficient to push Karzai back down below 50 percent and force a runoff with Abdullah, who won just under 28 percent of the vote, according to the commission.

A Karzai campaign adviser, Moen Marastyal, said Wednesday that he expected the president would still be above 50 percent when the fraud investigations were through. He said Karzai would wait to declare victory until the investigation was through and the final vote was certified.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement Wednesday: "We hope that these investigations can be carried out rigorously, in a timely fashion and with maximum cooperation between the two independent electoral bodies."

The Afghan commission voted Sept. 7 to relax the fraud standards it had approved earlier after an analysis found that Karzai couldn't claim enough votes to push him over 50 percent, according to a commission official. After the commission eased the standards, hundreds of thousands of questionable votes were added to the count.

On Wednesday, the commission's chief electoral officer, Daoud Ali Najafi, denounced the EU observers as overstepping their authority. "They have not the right to interfere in the commission," Najafi said.

Karzai supporters have pressured the election commission to limit the antifraud effort, while runner-up Abdullah and some Western officials have sought to bolster it. Western governments also have influence through the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission, which has the authority to annul votes and order recounts.

Under Afghan electoral law, the complaints commission must rule on all the fraud allegations before the election commission can certify the final vote.

Obama: No quick decision on troops

President Barack Obama said Wednesday there will be no quick decision on whether to send more U.S. troops into the widening war in Afghanistan. "I'm going to take a very deliberate process in making those decisions," said Obama, taking questions from reporters as he sat in the Oval Office with visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. His comments came a day after Adm. Mike Mullen, his top military adviser as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, endorsed an increase in U.S. forces.

Associated Press

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