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Officials Urge Afghan Candidates to Await Voter Fraud Investigation - 2004-10-10

Afghan and foreign officials are urging patience as they start investigating alleged cases of voter fraud in Afghanistan's first presidential election. Tempers appear to be cooling following demands by some Afghan candidates that the election be nullified.

During voting Saturday, former Justice Minister Abdul Satar Serat and other candidates called for the election to be nullified, citing allegations of voter fraud.

Mr. Serat had claimed to speak for all 15 candidates running against current transitional President Hamid Karzai.

But since then, several candidates have distanced themselves from Mr. Serat's statement, saying they will await the outcome of a probe by the Afghan election body.

Ambassador Richard Barry, head of an election support team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, catalogued some of the fraud allegations Sunday.

"For example, in some polling stations, either candidate agents or election personnel were observed coaching people about how to vote," he said.

Another problem involves the indelible ink used to mark the thumbs of those who had voted. In some polling stations, regular ink was reportedly used, raising the possibility that some voters could wash their thumbs and vote again.

The muddle prompted Hemandh Kumar, from the Mysore Paints and Varnish company which supplied the indelible ink pens, to deny any problem with the ink itself.

"Our ink is a very world famous ink, what we supplied," he said. "It is the ink we are using for Indian elections and also for world elections."

But Ambassador Barry, along with U.S. Ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad and others, were quick to praise the elections as a big achievement for war-ravaged Afghanistan.

They noted that predictions of terror attacks by remnants of the hard-line Taleban regime did not materialize, and they urged the candidates to wait for the investigation's outcome.

Meanwhile, election officials say preliminary results are days away as ballot boxes make their way to eight regional centers for manual counting.

While no comprehensive polls were taken before the election, several international observers and relief organizations said strong public support for President Karzai make him the most likely winner.