President Hamid Karzai extended his lead over his top challenger in Afghanistan's presidential election, new vote results showed Wednesday, but remains short of the 50% threshold that would allow him to avoid a two-man runoff.
Afghan election officials are slowly releasing results from last week's presidential election, and final certified results will not be ready until at least mid-September, after dozens of serious complaints of fraud have been investigated.
Low turnout and the fraud allegations have cast a pall over the vote, seen as crucial to efforts to stabilize the country, which is racked by Taliban insurgents and doubts over its fragile democracy. Top challenger Abdullah Abdullah has accused Karzai of widespread vote rigging, claims Karzai's camp has denied.
The latest returns boost Karzai's standing to 44.8%. Abdullah, a former foreign minister, now has 35.1%. The count is based on returns from 17% of polling stations, meaning the results could still change dramatically. Tuesday's returns had Abdullah trailing Karzai by about 2 percentage points
Although millions of Afghans voted Aug. 20, apathy and fear of militant attacks meant turnout was down from that of the nation's first direct presidential election in 2004, which was swept by Karzai.
This summer has been Afghanistan's most violent since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
NATO said two U.S. troops died Wednesday in two separate attacks, keeping August on pace to be the deadliest month of the war for the U.S. military. The two deaths bring to 43 the number of U.S. troops killed this month.
The presidential returns announced Wednesday are based on partial results from 28 of the 34 provinces, but few votes have been counted from Kandahar and no votes from Helmand province, two areas that would boost Karzai's totals.