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Afghan election worker, 4 others killed by bomb

Karzai has big lead in early tallying

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A doctor helping organize Afghan elections died yesterday along with four other civilians when an explosion tore through their vehicle, police said. He was the first election worker to die in violence since the landmark vote.

Meanwhile, interim leader Hamid Karzai consolidated his healthy ballot lead, commanding 61.3 percent with one-fifth of the votes counted from the Oct. 9 presidential ballot. Election officials may not make the result official until the winner is certain but have said the tallies are unlikely to change much once 20 percent of the votes were counted -- a threshold reached yesterday.

Karzai's closest challenger, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, charged yesterday that only cheating had given the US-backed incumbent the advantage. Qanooni was trailing Karzai with only 18.8 percent of the vote.

The explosion destroyed a vehicle of the joint UN-Afghan electoral commission in Paktika, a troubled province on the Pakistani border, election spokesman Sultan Baheen said.

Election officials said it was unclear whether the vehicle was deliberately targeted or had struck a mine left over from Afghanistan's many years of war.

But the local police chief said the car hit a land mine laid on a main road by "the enemies of Afghanistan" -- shorthand here for Taliban militants, who threatened to disrupt the elections.

The police official, Mohammed Rahim Alikhel, identified the election worker as Dr. Sattar, a local physician who had helped organize the vote and was traveling to his clinic when he died. The police did not give Sattar's full name.

The other victims were the doctor's nephew, his driver, and two other local men, Alikhel said.

The explosion was the latest in a string of deadly incidents casting a cloud over the election but failing to knock it off course.

Despite poor weather and Taliban threats of more attacks, an estimated 8 million Afghans cast ballots in a democratic experiment designed to cement the country's re-emergence since the Taliban fell in 2001 after a US invasion.

By yesterday, Karzai was dominating with 1.68 million votes, or 20.9 percent of the total cast, tallied. But his closest challenger, Qanooni, claimed to have evidence of organized fraud favoring Karzai.

Official results are expected by Oct. 31, but the winner should be clear this week.

While officials acknowledge minor problems during the vote, Karzai's opponents allege ballot boxes were stuffed with votes for Karzai in at least four provinces.

Qanooni said at a news conference that he believed he -- not Karzai -- would be headed for the simple majority needed to avoid a run-off if the ballot had been fair.

"The newborn baby of democracy in Afghanistan has been killed in front of our nation and the international community on the first day of its life," he said.

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