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Top Afghan Challenger Accepts Fraud Investigation Proposal

By Amy Waldman and Carlotta Gall

The New York Times -- KABUL, Afghanistan

The main challenger to President Hamid Karzai said Monday that he had accepted a proposal by the United Nations and the U.S. ambassador to start an independent inquiry into complaints of electoral fraud.

The challenger, Yunus Qanooni, is among 15 presidential candidates who have cried foul over the conduct of the election on Saturday, citing in particular the failure of an ink marker system to prevent multiple voting. But in a news briefing at his home on Monday evening, he announced his assent to the formation of an independent commission to investigate the charges and said he did not want to denigrate what was a historic event.

“We want the feelings and happiness of the people to be appreciated; we don’t want to boycott,” he said. “We have proved that the interests of the people are more important than other interests.”

Three other candidates -- including Satar Sirat, who initially announced that Karzai’s rivals would not recognize the result as legitimate -- have also signaled that they would be satisfied by an impartial inquiry.

Still, both Qanooni and Sirat maintained their allegations of election fraud. Sirat said there were a number of complaints from witnesses in the capital and the provinces of fraud -- in particular the behavior of candidates’ representatives in the polling stations -- that brought into doubt the legitimacy of the vote.

Qanooni said he would wait for the results of the investigation before making any further decision on the election. He said if there was a true count, he was confident he would win.

On Monday, an Election Day survey financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development showed that Karzai had received a strong majority of votes, leading his next closest rival, Qanooni, by more than 40 percentage points, the survey’s organizers said.