Karzai says he'll accept outcome of election fraud probes

KABUL, Afghanistan — After winning 54.6 percent of the vote in the initial tally of a fraud-tainted election, President Hamid Karzai, said Thursday that he hoped to serve another five years but would accept the results of investigations that could force him into a runoff.

"Even if they take away all my votes and say, 'You are no longer president,' I will accept that," Karzai said in a meeting with reporters Thursday.

Less than an hour after his news conference, a suicide bomber attacked a NATO convoy in the heart of Kabul. The car bomber killed six Italian troops and 10 Afghans and wounded more than 50 civilians.

It was the third major bombing in the past five weeks as Taliban-led insurgents seek to bring the war to Afghanistan's capital city. As the holy month of Ramadan nears an end, and with no clear outcome to the presidential elections, Kabul is a city on edge.

Intelligence reports indicate that other would-be suicide bombers will be seeking targets in the weeks ahead, according to an international security official who's reviewed the reports. The official spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position.

The combination of the unresolved election and the continuing violence is unsettling many Afghans. On paper, Karzai's claim to a 2-1 margin over his closest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, is a decisive victory, but it's been undercut by the finding of a U.N.-backed complaints commission that there's "clear and convincing evidence of fraud."

In his appearance Thursday, Karzai appeared to heed the counsel of European and American officials not to claim victory.

"I hope that the election commission certifies me as a winner, and I will work for the unity of the people," Karzai said.

Some political observers have suggested that Karzai form a coalition government to help resolve doubts about the legitimacy of the election, but he rejected such an arrangement, saying that it would thwart the intent of the election to choose a winner. However, Karzai said that should he win, he'd be willing to offer a government post to Abdullah, who's already ruled out accepting such an offer.

Karzai also addressed on Thursday a report by European Union election observers that he may have received up to 1.1 million questionable votes. Karzai said he was surprised and shocked to learn of the reports, and dismissed allegations that his administration had helped rig votes.

He admitted, however, that he may have benefited from government officials who were partial to him. He also said that other government officials had helped Abdullah.

If he remains president, he said, he'd rule out prosecuting Afghans for past human rights abuses. "No doubt there have been mistakes in this country. We don't see it's in the interest of the Afghan people to excavate the past," Karzai said.

One key backer of Karzai, Abdul Rashid Dostum, has acknowledged responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in 2001. They'd been stuffed into containers and allowed to suffocate while they were driven to a region in northern Afghanistan that he then controlled. All were buried in mass graves. McClatchy reported last December that the graves had been opened and emptied, and former aides to Dostum said it was on his orders.

(Bernton reports for The Seattle Times.)


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