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Afghan government must set out credible presidential election plan

The Afghan government and its international supporters must immediately set out a clear and effective plan to ensure a credible second round of presidential election voting, Amnesty International said on Tuesday. The Afghanistan Independent Election Commission scheduled a run-off vote between the two leading candidates for 7 November after widespread fraud was found to have taken place in the first round. “The Afghan government and its international partners now have a very short window to show that they have learned from the mistakes of the last elections. They ignored clear early warnings of human rights violations surrounding the election campaign, including attacks on the media and political activists and the result was the rampant fraud now documented by the Electoral Complaints Commission during the elections,” said Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific Director at Amnesty International. " "One of the key steps the government must immediately take is reform of the electoral system, including the election commission, to minimize political interference and to allow proper monitoring of the vote: before, during, and after balloting.” “These steps will be all the more important as Afghanistan faces parliamentary elections next year, where the possibility of fraud, intimidation and violence is much greater than in the presidential elections.” Following the first round of voting on August 20, initial results saw President Hamid Karzai claim 55 per cent of the vote while his challenger Abdullah Abdullah won 28 per cent, according to official sources and monitors. After a recount Karzai was found to have won 48 per cent and Abdullah 32 per cent. Amnesty International received evidence of at least 20 cases of intimidation, harassment and violence against Afghan journalists and media organisations as they reported on suspected cases of electoral fraud or irregularities. Amnesty International also received reports of intimidation and harassment against electoral workers and election monitors by Afghan government officials and affiliates of powerful candidates, including Karzai and Abdullah. “Whatever happens in the second round of voting, what is essential is that the Afghan people have a real chance to form and articulate their views and to cast their ballots free of intimidation and violence,” said Sam Zarifi. Amnesty International also called on the US military and Nato forces to immediately clarify how they will provide security before and during the elections. International forces are in effect responsible for security in most of Afghanistan, and particularly in southern Afghanistan where most allegations of fraud appeared. "The Taleban and other insurgent groups engaged in a campaign of violence to disrupt the elections and frighten potential voters. Millions of Afghans braved these attacks to vote, and before they are asked to take such a risk again they should be told how they will be protected," Zarifi said.