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Karzai and Abdullah Both Claim Victory in Afghan Elections
Although the first early official results are not expected until Saturday or even Sunday, both campaign teams claimed they were ahead, with President Karzai's staff saying he had taken a majority of votes, making a second round run-off unnecessary.
Abdullah's spokesman, Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki, said the former foreign minister was ahead with 62% of the vote.
Pajwok, an Afghan news agency that began last night to collate unofficial results published by individual polling centres, said the two candidates were "virtually in a dead heat", with Abdullah doing best in the provinces immediately north of Kabul and Karzai grabbing votes in the south and east.
The US had hoped to avoid such speculation and the secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, announced three days before the poll that she expected people to "refrain from speculation until results are announced". Fearing that disputes between candidates could turn ugly, she called on "candidates and their supporters to behave responsibly".
Foreign election observers also urged caution, saying a poll conducted in virtual combat zones in some parts of the country was particularly hard to analyse.
The country's deputy chief electoral officer, Zekria Barakzai, called on candidates to await the official results.
He said turnout was between 40% and 50%, far lower than the 70% of voters who took part in Afghanistan's first presidential election in 2004. Figures on regional turnouts will be eagerly awaited as expected low turnout in the south could eat into Karzai's support.
According to the official timetable of events, preliminary results are not due until 3 September, with the final certified results coming in two weeks later.
That will give election officials time to investigate widespread allegations of fraud. The campaign team of Ashraf Ghani, another leading candidate, said they were particularly worried about reports of ballot box stuffing in areas in the south where election observers were unable to visit.
Suspiciously high turnouts of women in the south will also be scrutinised as huge numbers of fake voter registration cards in the name of women are known to be in circulation.