Afghanistan waits for election results

Afghans halted counting in their presidential election pending a United Nations probe into accusations of fraud, as international observers said the vote is just a first step in creating a stable and secure country.

&to=http:// ' target=_blank>Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, on a visit to Iran, today called for holding parliamentary elections, scheduled for May or June, "without delay," saying they "will be decisive for ensuring accord in the country and for enhancing stability," according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

"The parliamentary and local elections are the more important tests on whether Afghanistan is on the road to a democracy," John Sifton, a researcher at &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Human Rights Watch, said today by telephone from Afghanistan. "The most important thing is for the international community not to declare victory, lapse into a sense of complacency, and then pack their bags and go home.", reports Bloomberg.

According to Reuters, millions of Afghans took part in Saturday's poll, the first time the impoverished, war-torn Islamic nation voted for a president, but all 15 of Karzai's challengers announced a boycott, saying a system to prevent multiple voting had failed.

"We want unity in this election, not a boycott," ethnic Tajik commander Yunus Qanuni told reporters after intermediaries, including U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, interceded in the row.

"The people want it and we appreciate their feelings."

Qanuni said he was speaking for several candidates but not all. But his acquiescence means the end of the most serious opposition to the poll, which was held under the shadow of threats of violence by &to=http:// ' target=_blank>Taliban insurgents.

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