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Afghan election set for April 2014

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai took a step toward fulfilling his pledge to hold Afghanistan’s presidential election on time, as officials said Tuesday that the vote had been officially set for April 5, 2014.

If the date holds, it would avoid a repeat of one of the first in a series of controversies to mar the last presidential election, originally set for May 2009. That election was delayed until August, which pushed Karzai a few months past the official end of his constitutionally mandated five-year term.

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The vote itself was then plagued by massive fraud, much of it in Karzai’s favor. Widespread violence also kept many voters away from the polls, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the country’s largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, dominate and the Taliban are strongest.

The president, opposition leaders, and the Afghan government’s foreign backers have in recent months repeatedly said they hoped to avoid the same problems in 2014, though Western officials have expressed doubts about whether a truly clean and free election can be held given the level of violence in Afghanistan and the corruption within the government.

The political opposition, in welcoming an announcement, pressed the government to ensure a fraud-free vote.

Specifying the date ‘‘is not enough,’’ said Sardar Muhammad Rahimi, a spokesman for the National Front of Afghanistan, an alliance of three major opposition political figures, each associated with one of Afghanistan’s smaller ethnic groups.

Among the opposition’s top concerns is the passage of a new election law that would mandate that two foreigners appointed by the United Nations sit on the country’s five-person Electoral Complaints Commission.

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