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Prospect of Karzai Win Sparks Unrest

KABUL - President Hamid Karzai moved closer Wednesday toward collecting enough votes to avoid a runoff, prompting threats of civil unrest from Afghan tribal leaders who oppose him and are angry over alleged election fraud.

With 60% of the votes counted from the Aug. 20 presidential election, Karzai now has 47.2% of the vote, according to the latest data from Afghanistan's electoral commission. The second-place candidate, Abdullah Abdullah, has 32.6% support.

If Karzai gets at least 50% of the vote, he will win the election in the first round. At a rally in Kabul on Wednesday, there was a growing sense among Karzai's opponents that such a result was likely.

Election officials have said most of the remaining votes to be counted come from rural areas of southern Afghanistan, where Karzai's support has historically been strongest. Karzai's lead has steadily increased since the first wave of results was announced last week.

"If Karzai is declared the winner, and it seems it is fixed . . . it will be a total trampling of our rights and democracy," said Ayub Khan, a tribal elder from Kandahar province.

Khan said border patrol officers loyal to Karzai surrounded the polling station in his village during the vote and told Abdullah supporters they would harm them if they voted. "If (Karzai) wins, there is no doubt that the people will go to the streets to fight for our rights," Khan said.

Speakers at the rally made similar pledges.

"The international community needs to intervene and put a stop to the stealing of votes from the Afghan people," said Ghullah Rabani Rahamani, head of a religious council in Takhar province. "God forbid we continue down the path we are on, we will be ready to take the next step for Dr. Abdullah."

The Electoral Complaints Commission announced Wednesday that they still have to investigate 652 complaints of serious polling violations that must be reviewed before the election can be certified. The complaints include allegations of ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation and counting irregularities, said Grant Kippen, a Canadian who heads that commission.

Kippen would not estimate how long it would it take to complete the investigations, but he said that the commission had a duty to thoroughly investigate the complaints. Karzai has denied involvement in any widespread fraud.

Speaking to supporters on Wednesday, Abdullah vowed he would not strike a power-sharing deal with Karzai. Abdullah called on his supporters to fight for their votes peacefully and through legal channels.

"We will act peacefully, we will act patiently and we will act responsibly," Abdullah told his supporters. "But let it be clear, we will get our rights."

Some supporters at the rally seemed to ignore the peaceful message. Mohammed Ziad, a university student and Abdullah supporter, said he is so angry about the presidential race that he's had trouble eating.

He was supposed to get engaged last week, but he told his parents to put off a meeting with his prospective fiancée's family. Ziad said he's become so consumed by the election that he can't think about marriage.

"We are ready for anything to ensure our votes aren't stolen," said Ziad, 23. "If Dr. Abdullah tells us to demonstrate, we'll demonstrate. If we need to solve this with guns, I am willing to take my weapon to the street."

Lisa Curtis, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, said that Karzai may be on his way to crossing the 50% .

"A victory by Karzai amidst serious allegations of vote tampering and low voter turnout would leave his new government on shaky ground," Curtis said.

Christine Fair, an Afghanistan analyst and professor at Georgetown University, said there could be a violent backlash if Karzai wins in the first round. "In terms of credibility, a runoff would offer the best case scenario," Fair said.

The independent electoral commission had said it would announce official results of the vote on Sept. 17, but that date may be extended so fraud allegations can be fully investigated.

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