Top Candidates In Afghanistan Claim Victory

President Hamid Karzai and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah each positioned themselves on Friday as the winner of Afghanistan

Presidential candidate and current President Hamid Karzai, right, greets his supportera during an election rally in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, July 24, 2009. Afghanistan's president shook hands and roused supporters Friday with promises to hold international troops more accountable during his first campaign rally in the capital (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

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

But partial preliminary results won't be made public before Tuesday, as Afghanistan and the dozens of countries with troops and aid organizations in
the country wait to see who will lead the troubled nation for the next five years.

Even so, campaign teams on Friday conducted informal counts and posted numbers at campaign headquarters, which they said were based on reports from their polling site observers.

Karzai's team said the president had won more than 50 percent of the vote, a result that would negate the need for a two-man runoff.

"Our own assumption based on all what we have heard and received and what we have seen so far we are well ahead in the elections," Waheed Omar, Spokesman for presidential campaign of Hamid Karzai told Associated Press on Friday.

Karzai's main challenger, Abdullah also said that preliminary results indicated that he was in the lead - despite "complaints about irregularities throughout the country".

He claimed government officials interfered with ballot boxes and in some places blocked monitors from inspecting boxes or their contents.

Although Abdullah's unofficial returns showed him beating Karzai handily - they did not include any numbers from the south and east, where the president was expected to win large majorities.

Counting at individual polling sites was completed on Friday, but ballots were now being sent to the capital, Kabul, election officials said.

Officials of the country's Independent Election Commission (IEC) began their work as soon as the polls closed at 1700 local time on Thursday (1230 GMT Thursday) after a one-hour extension.

Though election officials previously said preliminary results would be announced on Saturday, Daoud Ali Najafi, the chief electoral officer, said on Friday that results would not be made public until Tuesday.

"Any results announced by other sources before the official announcement of IEC is not legal," Najafi told the media on Friday in reaction to the announcements by the Karzai and Abdullah campaign teams.

Claims of early victory by the two candidates were an attempt to win the expectations game and officials with the country's Independent Election
Commission said it was too early for any campaign to claim itself the winner.

Final official results weren't to be announced until early September.

Meanwhile, security remained tight on the streets of the capital on Friday, with Afghan police searching vehicles for weapons.

At least 26 people were killed in election-related violence.

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

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

A low turnout and allegations of fraud could cast doubt over the legitimacy of the vote and raise fears that followers of defeated candidates might take to the streets.

US officials had hoped for a wide turnout as a symbolic rejection of the insurgency.

The voting was seen partly as a test of the ability of US forces to protect civilians - the new top military priority - and the willingness of voters to accept that help.


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