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Fraud stand-off delays Afghan election results

Last-minute talks delayed the release of Afghanistan's presidential election result Monday, as the two campaigns tried to thrash out a deal over fraud allegations that threaten to fuel instability.

KABUL: Last-minute talks delayed the release of Afghanistan's presidential election result Monday, as the two campaigns tried to thrash out a deal over fraud allegations that threaten to fuel instability.

Abdullah Abdullah has vowed to reject the preliminary result, alleging he was the victim of "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing, while his poll rival Ashraf Ghani has said he had won fairly by at least one million votes.

The result was due out at 2:00 pm (0930 GMT), but was delayed for several hours as the Independent Election Commission (IEC) officials and campaign teams held a series of hectic discussions behind closed doors.

Central to the talks is how many of the total 23,000 polling stations will be put through an anti-fraud audit.

"We agreed for an audit of 7,000 polling stations, but they had other conditions that we couldn't agree with, so for now there is only partial agreement," Ghani's spokesman Daud Sultanzoy told AFP.

Abdullah's spokesman Fazel Sancharaki said: "Our main demand was for the inspection of 11,000 polling stations under the close supervision of United Nations. 7,000 polling stations is not enough.

"The negotiation is still ongoing, if it produces a result, we will enter the process, otherwise even if they announce the results we will not recognise it."

Both sides said the UN was involved in the talks, but its spokesman declined to give further details.

Kabul-based diplomats scrambled for information as the scheduled time for the announcement passed and the IEC declined to release a reason for the delay.

Afghanistan's international backers have lobbied hard to try to ensure a smooth election process, but the contested outcome could realise their worst fears and raises the risk of civil unrest.

Following the preliminary result on Monday, the official result is scheduled for July 24 after a period for adjudication of complaints.

The deadlock has brought Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power to the brink of chaos as US-led troops end their 13-year war against the Taliban, and the country faces a new era with declining civilian aid.

Afghanistan has been battered by decades of conflict, and any power struggle would undermine claims that the hugely costly US-led military and civilian mission has helped to establish a functioning state.

It could also threaten billions of dollars of aid pledges and boost the insurgents.

The government on Sunday rejected a proposal to ban Facebook during the impasse despite fears that social media postings have fanned ethnic hatred.

Ghani attracts much of his support from the Pashtun tribes of the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups -- echoing the ethnic divisions of the bloody 1992-1996 civil war.

The UN mission in Afghanistan has highlighted the risk of political tensions spilling over into violence, though protests have so far been peaceful.

President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, is constitutionally barred from a third term in office, and he has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

With NATO's combat mission ending, the summer has been a major test of the fledgling Afghan government forces, who have been fighting back in the southern province of Helmand after a major Taliban offensive last month.

All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December, with about 10,000 US troops staying into next year if the new president signs a security deal with Washington.

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