Karzai Widens Lead Over Abdullah in Afghan Vote

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KABUL - President Hamid Karzai widened his lead over his top challenger Wednesday after Afghan officials released more partial vote results. The president's new total pushed him closer to the 50 percent threshold that would allow him to avoid a two-man runoff.

The Independent Election Commission released its second batch of results from last week's presidential election. More results will be released in coming days, and final certified results will not be ready until at least mid-September, after investigations are held into the dozens of serious complaints of fraud that have been filed.

Low voter turnout and allegations of fraud have cast a pall over the election. Top challenger Abdullah Abdullah has accused Karzai of widespread rigging, including ballot-stuffing and voter intimidation, claims Karzai's camp has denied.

The latest returns boost Karzai's standing to 44.8 percent. Abdullah now has 35.1 percent. The count is based on returns from 17 percent of polling stations nationwide, meaning the results could still change dramatically.

Before the commission released results Wednesday, Ramazan Bashardost - a presidential candidate who appears likely to come in third - stood up in front of the commission and lodged complaints about the process.

Millions of Afghans went to the polls last Thursday to vote in the country's second-ever direct presidential election. Militants launched dozens of attacks across the country, violence that shut down some polling sites.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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