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Election Results Due In Afghanistan

Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claims "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing in the runoff election.
Presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah claims "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing in the runoff election.

First preliminary results from Afghanistan's presidential runoff election are due to be announced on July 7.

The runoff has been marred by controversy with both candidates -- Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani -- accusing each other of trying to manipulate the vote and declaring victory in the contest to succeed Hamid Karzai as president.

Abdullah, previously seen as the election front-runner, has vowed not to recognize the vote count.

He alleges that he was the victim of "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing on June 14.

Ghani says the result is fair and must not be further delayed.

Ghani aides, citing election observers, say he is in the lead in the runoff by at least 1 million votes.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin -- on a visit to Kabul -- told reporters on July 6 that the preliminary result would likely be followed by an audit of suspicious votes.

In response to allegations of mass fraud, the Independent Election Commission has been recounting votes from 1,930 polling stations.

Analysts say the delay in announcing the results was partly to give the two rivals time to reach a compromise.

However, Ghani has ruled out a coalition with Abdullah.

"Our commitment is to defend national interests, not personal interests," Ghani said on July 5.

The deepening rift between the rivals has sparked speculation of a wider split along ethnic lines in Afghanistan.

Ghani, a former World Bank economist, attracts support from Pashtuns in the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks in the north -- echoing the ethnic divisions of the civil war in the 1990s.

On July 6, the Afghan government rejected a proposal to ban Facebook, amid fears social media were being used to stoke ethnic hatred as the political impasse continues.

Adding to an already tense situation, Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the election process.

On July 5, militants set fire to 200 oil tankers supplying fuel to NATO forces near Kabul.

Washington has been hoping for a swift transfer of power in order to sign a security pact allowing some U.S. forces to stay in the country beyond 2014.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP