The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Afghan polls in turmoil after boycott

Kabul, Oct. 9 (Reuters): Afghanistan's historic presidential election closed today without any of the feared large-scale violence but the vote was thrown into turmoil instead by a boycott called by most of the candidates.

All 15 of President Hamid Karzai's rivals said they were withdrawing from the election because systems to prevent illegal multiple voting had gone awry. The move effectively left Karzai as the only candidate in the fray. Election officials nevertheless refused to halt the process, which appeared to have gone smoothly across the rugged Islamic nation despite fears that many Afghans would be too afraid to participate.

'Halting the vote at this time is unjustified and would deny these individuals the right to vote,' said election official Ray Kennedy. The impoverished nation was voting to choose its first elected President and perhaps end over a quarter-century of war.

It was not immediately clear how much credibility the poll would have after the boycott or whether it would lead to further divisiveness in the country, a patchwork of ethnic groups and often warring tribes held together for the past three years by the US-backed interim government.

Fears of sabotage by Taliban militants who had vowed to disrupt the polls were overtaken halfway through the voting day when it became clear some workers were using the wrong pen to mark people's fingers after they voted.

This meant the ink could just be washed off and the voter could potentially cast a ballot again.

During the campaign, some candidates expressed surprise that as many as 10.5 million out of the country's 28 million people had registered to vote, and said they believed many people had received multiple voter cards.

The decision by Karzai's rivals to boycott the poll was made at an emergency meeting. Eighteen candidates are on the ballot but two withdrew this week in favour of Karzai.

Later all but one of the 15 demanded fresh polls and said they would not recognise any government elected today.

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