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TALLY OF AFGHAN VOTE TOPS HOPES

New York Times

KABUL, Afghanistan -After enduring months of Taliban attacks and days of security clampdowns, Afghans reveled Sunday in the apparent success of this weekend's election, as officials offered the first solid indications that the vote had far exceeded expectations.

Two senior officials from the Independent Election Commission said the authorities supervising the collection of ballots in tallying centers had counted between 7 million and 7.5 million total ballots, indicating that about 60 percent of the 12 million eligible voters had taken part in the election. The officials spoke to the New York Times on the condition of anonymity because results will not be released for weeks.

At least some of the votes are expected to be disqualified for fraud, but if the numbers hold up, they would buttress anecdotal accounts of Afghans voting in large numbers Saturday in what was the country's first wide-open election, with at least three of the eight candidates considered contenders to replace President Hamid Karzai. Afghan and Western officials, including Nicholas Haysom, the United Nations' top election official, had said turnout above 40 percent would be an excellent result.

High turnout would represent a sharp public repudiation of the Taliban, which had pledged to disrupt the election and had warned Afghans to stay away from the polls. Though the insurgents did manage a number of high-profile attacks in the weeks before the election - striking a voter registration center, the election commission headquarters and Kabul's only luxury hotel, among other targets - preliminary tallies indicated that millions of Afghans ignored those threats, and that the limited violence on Election Day did not keep people from voting.

Afghan election observers backed up the numbers offered by election officials, as did Western diplomats, though the latter struck a more cautious tone. But both said some votes would be thrown out because of fraud.

The question was how many, and whether Afghanistan would see a repeat of the 2009 election, which was marred by widespread ballot stuffing and other fraud. Turnout that year was about 38 percent, though some estimates put it lower, and the memory of what happened that year still hovers here, giving many reason to hesitate before declaring Saturday's vote an unqualified success.

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