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Cold Snap Prompts Cries Of Foul Play At Afghan Election Center

Independent Election Commission workers sit at computer terminals while election information from all over the country is gathered at the Data Center in Kabul.

A top Afghan presidential contender has complained after two police officers slept in an election data center in Kabul where results from last month's first round of presidential polls are being collated -- supposedly to escape chilly weather.

According to Independent Election Commission (IEC) official Aurangzeb, who only goes by one name, the officers were allowed late on October 20 into the sealed building, which is supposed to be locked down, to "spend the night in the corridor because of the cold weather outside."

The team of Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who is President Ashraf Ghani's main rival, said the officers had conducted an "organized attack in collusion with [Ghani's] team to change the outcome of the election."

IEC Chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani said the incident would be investigated and "the perpetrators dealt with."

Aurangzeb said "a mistake happened out of emotion and ignorance, but it should not be exaggerated."

Initial election results were supposed to have been released on October 19 but were postponed.

Abdullah claimed victory just two days after the vote, in a move that international and local observers panned as premature. His team later alleged "systemic fraud."

The September 28 presidential election was the latest in the South Asian country of around 35 million to be held under threat of violence by the Taliban and its allies.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on October 22 that a fresh round of intra-Afghan peace talks will be held in China on October 28-29, raising hopes for renewed negotiations to end Afghanistan's 18-year war.

The talks will be the first meeting between Taliban and prominent Afghans from Kabul since a July round of talks held in Qatar.

On October 21, the U.S. State Department said its peace envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, started a fresh round of talks with European, NATO, and UN partners about ending the war.

Khalilzad will later meet with Russian and Chinese representatives "to discuss shared interests in seeing the war in Afghanistan come to an end," the State Department said.

For nearly a year, Khalilzad led the first direct U.S. talks with the Taliban. However, last month President Donald Trump said the negotiations had failed after fresh violence killed more than a dozen people, including a U.S. soldier.

The Taliban refuses to talk directly with the Afghan government, calling it a "puppet" of foreign powers.

With reporting by AFP
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