President Hamid Karzai widened his lead over his main challenger in election returns released Saturday, creeping toward the 50% mark that would enable him to avoid a runoff in the divisive presidential contest.
Karzai's top challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, stepped up his fraud charges, raising doubts as to whether the former foreign minister's followers would accept the incumbent if he wins in the first round.
Accusations of fraud in the Aug. 20 vote have poured in to the Electoral Complaints Commission, which must investigate the allegations before final results can be announced.
Fraud allegations from Abdullah and other presidential candidates as well as low turnout in the violent south could strip the election of legitimacy, not only among Afghans but also among the United States and its international partners, which have staked their Afghan policies on support for a credible government.
Figures released Saturday showed Karzai with 46.2% of the votes against Abdullah's 31.4%. The results were based on 35% of the country's polling stations.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown paid a surprise visit Saturday to British troops in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, hoping to counter critics who accuse his government of failing to adequately support Britain's mission here. A British marine was killed in Helmand the day of Brown's visit, the Ministry of Defense said in London.