Karzai declared Afghan president

US-backed Hamid Karzai has been officially declared the winner of Afghanistan's first presidential election.

    Karzai is a close American ally

    Wednesday's announcement came almost a month after eight million Afghans

    defied threats of violence to vote in the elections.

    "Karzai is the winner," the UN-Afghan joint electoral

    commission's spokesman,

    Sultan Baheen, said after the findings of

    a fraud probe concluded that "shortcomings" did not affect the

    poll's outcome.

    The results of the 9 October ballot will be formally certified

    at a public ceremony in Kabul at 3pm (1030 GMT), United Nations

    spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said.

    But Karzai will not be present for the declaration of his

    victory, as he has flown to Dubai to attend the funeral of United

    Arab Emirates President Shaikh Zayid bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

    "The president left Kabul for Dubai today to participate in the

    funeral ceremony of His Majesty Shaikh Zayid," Karzai's campaign

    spokesman Hamid Elmi said.

    "He was a close friend of Afghanistan," Elmi said of Shaikh

    Zayid.

    Landslide victory

    The drawn-out vote count was completed only last Thursday.

    Preliminary results gave Karzai a landslide win of 55.4% with

    a 39.1 point lead over his nearest rival, former education minister

    Yunis Qanuni.

    "This was a commendable election, particularly given the very

    challenging circumstances"


    Joint Electoral Management Body statement

    The favourite of the powerful anti-Taliban Northern Alliance,

    Qanuni was said to be waiting until the results were publicly certified

    and may hold a press conference later.

    The election commission, known as the Joint Electoral Management

    Body, had to assess the report of a three-person panel of experts,

    plus the findings of its own investigation into irregularities,

    before certifying the election as "free and fair".

    The expert panel found the poll's "shortcomings" did not affect

    the overall result.

    "This was a commendable election, particularly given the very

    challenging circumstances," the panel's report said in the

    conclusion.

    Shortcomings

    "There were shortcomings, many of which were raised by the

    candidates themselves," said the panel. "These problems deserve to be considered to

    ensure the will of the voters was properly reflected, and to help

    shape improvements for future elections.

    "But they could not have materially affected the overall

    result."

    Presidential candidate Yunis
    Qanuni is set to concede defeat

    The panel was set up by the UN after 14 of the 18 candidates

    threatened to boycott the election in the middle of voting on 9 October

    over alleged irregularities, mainly arising from the

    failure and mix-up of indelible ink which was meant to stain voters'

    fingers to prevent repeat voting.

    Panel member Craig Jenness, a former Canadian diplomat, said

    Afghans deserved to be proud of their first election.

    "The 2004 Afghan presidential election was conducted in a

    relatively calm and secure environment with high turnout and much

    enthusiasm and substantial participation of women," he said

    .

    "Many voters made personal sacrifices and braved difficult

    conditions to cast their ballot on 9 October.

    "The Afghan population is justified in the pride it has

    overwhelmingly expressed in this election."

    Kidnappings

    On the other hand, critics have pointed out that the elections did not meet international standards due to the country's weak electoral system and lack of international monitors.

    Moreover, the conclusion of the historic ballot and Karzai's massive

    victory was overshadowed by the abduction of three UN election

    workers last week.

    "How can we say these people are Muslims? How can we accept

    them?"

    Former president Burhan al-Din Rabbani talking about the kidnappers

    Annetta Flanigan from northern Ireland, Shqipe Habibi from

    Kosovo and Angelito Nayan from the

    Philippines were kidnapped from their UN-marked vehicle

    on a busy Kabul road, just as the end of the count was announced.

    The abduction has sparked fears among expatriate workers of

    Iraq-style captures in Kabul and could undermine parliamentary

    elections scheduled for next April.

    The group holding the three

    UN workers

    extended a

    deadline for their threatened execution until

    Wednesday night, a spokesman said.

    "We have extended the deadline because we are hopeful about

    negotiations," Sayyid Khalid Agha, of the Jaish-e Muslimin

    (Army of Muslims), told Reuters.

    He gave no new specific time.

    'Unislamic'

    The group had threatened to kill the three hostages

    unless authorities released

    all Taliban prisoners in US custody in Afghanistan and

    Guantanamo Bay by 0730 GMT on Wednesday.

    The group's leader, Mullah Sayyid Muhammad Akbar Agha, said

    on Tuesday that negotiations with a "tajir" - an

    influential trader with wide contacts - were continuing and

    while the deadline for the prisoner release remained in place,

    it could be extended if negotiations progressed.

    The government has previously negotiated the release of

    several foreign nationals kidnapped by Taliban fighters, in

    return for a ransom, and some security sources say a ransom

    could be the best hope in this case.

    Fears of violence at the elections
    proved unfounded

    Disquiet has been steadily growing among Afghans over the

    kidnappings.

    On Tuesday the head of the country's council of

    religious elders said it was a sin for Muslims to harm UN

    workers.

    "Islam is a religion of peace and kindness," Shaikh al-Hadith

    Fazel Hadi Shinwari, head of the All Afghanistan Ulama,

    said in a statement issued through the Nato-led International

    Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

    "These people have come to serve the people of Afghanistan."

    Former president Burhan al-Din Rabbani, still an influential

    figure, also called the kidnappings un-Islamic.

    "How can we say these people are Muslims? How can we accept

    them?" he said.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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