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Abdullah Prepares for Election Results, Uproar

KABUL - The main challenger to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai accused the president Saturday of encouraging efforts to steal this week's election, but Abdullah Abdullah said he would prevent supporters from taking to the streets if he ultimately loses.

Abdullah said he would challenge the results vigorously for the next several weeks as votes are counted, virtually ensuring a period of political uncertainty here. After that he said he would accept results and would tell supporters to do so as well.

"I will not go beyond that," he said. "Life will go on," he said.

Abdullah's remarks Saturday were some of the strongest allegations he has made since Thursday's vote. He spoke for about 40 minutes with USA TODAY in his Kabul villa, occasionally jabbing the air with his finger, which was still marked with the indelible purple ink used in marking people who voted. Dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt, he appeared relaxed as he laid out his case in a quiet voice.

Voters went to the polls amid widespread reports of fraud and violence. Turnout in the south, where American forces are engaged in intensive fighting with Taliban militants, was particularly low. Karzai's biggest support comes from the south.

Abdullah said government officials took over the voting process in some districts and his observers were beaten and harassed. He stopped short of saying the president ordered it. "He allowed widespread rigging to take place," Abdullah said, referring to Karzai. "I think this is happening under his eyes. He knows it very well."

The Independent Election Commission is scheduled to release preliminary election results this Tuesday, but complete tallies are not expected for at least two weeks after that. Abdullah said he would use that time to press his case that Karzai's administration pressured voters and stuffed ballot boxes.

Abdullah's strategy of challenging results could mean weeks of uncertainty in a country already under pressure from a growing insurgency.

If no candidate gets a majority in this week's election, the two top vote-getters would go to a runoff.

Karzai has denied allegations of vote tampering and his aides have said he has enough votes to win in the first round.

Abdullah and Karzai met after the election with Richard Holbrooke, the Obama administration's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Abdullah said he expressed his concerns about the fraud, but said he would ensure his supporters accepted the final results.

"I will accept that," he said. "Otherwise this country could go into turmoil.

"I understand that they (Americans) are very wary of the fragility of the situation," Abdullah said. "They know that I am a responsible person."

Karzai was installed as president with Bush administration backing after the Taliban were ousted by a U.S.-led offensive in 2001. He won the country's first presidential election in 2004.

Thursday's election, however, was the country's first competitive race. The candidates participated in a televised debate before the election and traveled the country, holding massive rallies and giving speeches.

Abdullah, a former foreign minister in Karzai's government, ran a particularly active campaign, accusing Karzai's government of corruption and failing to capitalize on the opportunities after the Taliban were ousted and billions of foreign aid poured into the country.

During campaign swings Abdullah made frequent references to his time in Pansjir Valley as an aide to Ahmad Shah Massood, a legendary guerrilla leader who fought the Soviets in the 1980s. Massood, who is still revered in many parts of Afghanistan, was killed two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Karzai has said the country has made progress in education and health care and he is best suited to continue building on those achievements.

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