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Afghan presidential hopeful calls vote counting fraudulent

KABUL — Less than a week after Afghanistan’s presidential election, one of the two candidates is calling the government’s vote-counting process illegitimate, laying the groundwork for a protracted dispute that could destabilize the country.

Abdullah Abdullah, the nation’s former foreign minister, said Wednesday that he will reject the results due to be issued next month by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, calling the commission biased and the results fraudulent.

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While many here expected some questioning of the vote, Abdullah’s objections came far earlier than expected — two weeks before preliminary results will be announced and well before an electoral complaints commission has finished investigating accusations of fraud.

‘‘The process of counting votes must be stopped,’’ Abdullah said at a news conference, suggesting that a new body, overseen by the United Nations, might be formed to administer the process.

That seems unlikely to happen any time soon. The international community, particularly the United States, invested millions of dollars in training the election commission, and UN officials suggested that the commission must complete the task of addressing complaints and counting votes.

‘‘The announcement by Dr. Abdullah on the suspension of his cooperation in the electoral process has come as a surprise to us,” said Ari Gaitanis, a spokesman for the UN mission. ‘‘We regret this step. At the same time, we’ll continue to work with both campaigns and commissions, consulting on a way forward. We believe that due process should continue.’’

In addition to alleging bias by the commission, Abdullah accused the Afghan police of engaging in fraud on behalf of his opponent, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.

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‘‘Perhaps the foreigners do not know the realities, but for Afghans the reality is clear,’’ Abdullah said.

Some perceived Abdullah’s comments as a sign of desperation after a poorer-than-expected showing in Saturday’s runoff election. Abdullah received 44.5 percent of the vote in the first round of voting in April, compared with 31.5 percent for Ghani.

But reports of a higher voter turnout in the south and east, both Pashtun heartlands, might have boosted Ghani’s support. Ghani belongs to the Pashtun ethnic group, believed to be Afghanistan’s largest, while Abdullah is of mixed heritage and is often associated with the Tajik minority.

Most Afghan and foreign observers had expected some fraud, but had hoped the candidates would entrust the country’s electoral bodies to weed out illegitimate votes.

Officials from Ghani’s campaign said the electoral body must continue its work.

‘‘The commission is not a hostage to anyone,’’ said Abbas Noyan, a member of Ghani’s team.

Many here worry that a contested election could devolve into violence, a concern grounded in part in the memory of the country’s brutal civil war in the 1990s.

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