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Karzai, Abdullah Teams Claim Wins In Afghan Vote

This article is more than 11 years old.
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai holds up his purple finger after casting his ballot in Kabul on Thursday. (AP)
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai holds up his purple finger after casting his ballot in Kabul on Thursday. (AP)

Campaign teams for President Hamid Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah each positioned themselves Friday as the winner of Afghanistan's presidential election, one day after millions of Afghans braved dozens of militant attacks to cast ballots.

The first official returns were not expected until at least Saturday, but campaign teams conducted informal counts and posted numbers at campaign headquarters. Abdullah's unofficial returns showed him beating Karzai handily - but they did not include any numbers from Afghanistan's south and east, where Karzai was expected to win a large majority.

Across town, Karzai's campaign team said the president had won more than 50 percent of the nation's vote, a result that would mean a two-man runoff was not necessary.

Seddiq Seddiqi, a spokesman for Karzai's campaign, said initial returns showed Karzai was winning.

"We believe that he will have over 50 percent of the vote," said Seddiqi. "That is what we believe based on our initial findings."

Each campaign was clearly trying to win the early expectations game, and officials with the country's Independent Election Commission said it was too early for any campaign to claim victory.

"What Karzai's office is claiming is not correct. The result is in front of you. You can see Abdullah is ahead with 62 percent and Karzai has 31 percent," said Abdullah spokesman Sayyid Agha Hussain Fazel Sancharaki.

As candidates set expectations in the capital, election workers around the country counted votes. International observers called for calm during the precarious wait for results of the country's second presidential poll since Taliban rule. While initial returns were expected Saturday or Sunday, final official results weren't to be announced until early September.

Millions of Afghans defied threats to cast ballots, but turnout appeared weaker than the previous vote in 2004 because of violence, fear and disenchantment.

At least 26 people were killed in election-related violence, fewer than had been feared. But in much of the Taliban's southern strongholds, many people did not dare to vote, bolstering the hopes of Abdullah.

A top election official, Zekria Barakzai, told The Associated Press he estimated 40 percent to 50 percent of the country's 15 million registered voters cast ballots - far lower than the 70 percent who voted in the presidential election in 2004.

Nevertheless, many Afghans did vote, some at great risk to their lives. Many waited until midday to see whether the Taliban would carry through with threats to attack polling stations. Some proudly showed off the ink on their index fingers to prove they had voted.

Authorities managed to open 6,202 polling centers - 95 percent of those planned, according to Barakzai.

International officials had predicted an imperfect election - Afghanistan's second-ever direct presidential vote - but expressed hope that Afghans would accept the outcome as legitimate, a key component of President Barack Obama's strategy for the war.

This program aired on August 21, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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