Probe clears the way for Karzai victory

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The Independent Online

Hamid Karzai has been confirmed as victor of Afghanistan's landmark presidential election after investigators concluded that fraud and technical errors were too minor to overturn his triumph.

A formal announcement declaring him the winner of a five-year term as the country's first directly elected leader was expected later today.

But his closest challenger, Yunus Qanooni, has refused to concede defeat.

Afghanistan's UN-sponsored electoral board approved the report by a three-strong panel called in to investigate allegations of cheating, board spokesman Sultan Baheen said.

The US-backed interim leader won 55.4 percent support in the Oct. 9 election, according to results on the official election Web site, 39 points clear of Qanooni and enough to avoid a second round.

The panel was called in after Qanooni and other challengers claimed massive fraud in favor of Karzai.

"There were shortcomings," said Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish member of the panel that examined the vote. "But they could not have materially affected the overall result."