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UN envoy denies claims over Afghan election fraud

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HEIDI VOGT | October 8, 2009 12:06 PM EST | AP

KABUL — The U.N.'s top envoy in Afghanistan denied allegations he did not do enough to prevent or investigate fraud in the country's presidential vote, saying Thursday the charges are a distraction from the task of settling the still-undecided vote.

Kai Eide's former deputy, Peter Galbraith, was fired last week in wake of a dispute with his boss over how to deal with fraud charges in the Aug. 20 balloting. Galbraith, the top American official at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, also accused Eide of thwarting efforts to do something about it.

"This is a distraction," Eide said of the allegations. "But I have done my utmost to focus on getting the election process forward,"

Asked if it could damage the U.N.'s reputation in Afghanistan and it's credibility as an arbiter in any presidential runoff or future votes, Eide said: "That is a problem, and it is a problem not caused by me. It is a problem caused by my former deputy."

Preliminary results issued last month show President Hamid Karzai winning with 54.6 percent of the vote, but enough votes have been deemed questionable by fraud investigators that the tossing out of tainted votes could put Karzai below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff with his top challenger.

Ballot boxes are being examined this week by Afghan election officials and a U.N.-backed fraud panel that will decide how many ballots to throw out. Election officials have said they hope to announce final results late next week.

Galbraith claimed in a letter to the U.N. secretary-general that Eide "denied that significant fraud had taken place, even going to the extreme of ordering U.N. staff not to discuss the matter." He also accused Eide of ordering the staff not to share the U.N.'s voter data, which showed low turnout in key southern provinces, because it would be "deeply disturbing to president Karzai."

Eide, the Norwegian head of the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, has said he was "reluctant to share the data not because it was displeasing to Karzai but because it was difficult to corroborate."

In a statement issued Thursday, Eide said: "The accusations that the United Nations has covered up or that I asked for fraud to be covered up are patently false."

Karzai's top challenger and former minister Abdullah Abdullah said Thursday that the U.S. and NATO cannot expect to improve security in Afghanistan with more troops if those forces are propping up a government seen as illegitimate because of cheating in the election.

"They will never be able to stand such a government on its feet by sending more foreign troops, more money, more political support more diplomatic or financial support," Abdullah said in a speech to supporters.