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Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. (Massoud Hossaini/AP)

Presidential hopeful Abdullah accuses opponent of vote fraud Add to ...

The party of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah broadcast audio on Sunday that it said showed mass fraud had been committed in an election that aims to transfer power democratically in the country for the first time.

The audio purports to show that Independent Election Commission (IEC) Secretariat head Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhil made phone calls to officials in several provinces ordering them to stuff ballot boxes using code words.

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While Mr. Amarkhil denies the allegations and the Independent Election Complaints Commission is investigating, the broadcast could stoke further protests across the country supporting Mr. Abdullah’s decision to withdraw from the vote.

The election comes at a delicate time as most foreign troops will exit by the end of the year, leaving behind a still strong Taliban insurgency and deepening economic crisis.

Mr. Abdullah, former leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, last week recalled his observers monitoring the ongoing count and said the outcome of the runoff with former finance minister Ashraf Ghani on June 14 would be illegal.

The United Nations has warned of an escalation of ethnic tension and called on him to reengage with the election. Mr. Abdullah is of mixed heritage but his support base is with the Tajik community, while ex-World Bank economist Mr. Ghani is an ethnic Pashtun.

Ignoring UN and government calls to return to the process, Mr. Abdullah’s party on Sunday used a news conference to air what it said were the intercepted phone call recordings of Mr. Amarkhil.

“Today we are releasing documents which show Amarkhil has organized cheating and manipulated votes favouring one candidate. In the coming days we will release more documents to the public,” Baryalai Arsalai, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign manager, said.

In one example, the voice instructs the person on the other end of the line to “stuff the sheep properly.” The word “sheep” is interpreted by Mr. Abdullah’s staff as code for “ballot box.”

The authenticity of the audio was denied by Mr. Amarkhil, who told The Wall Street Journal on Sunday that he did not recall the conversations and “would never talk like that.” Reuters was not able to reach him for comment.

The audio also includes alleged conversations in which the voice supposedly belonging to Mr. Amarkhil asks his staff to hire election workers based on their ethnicity, asking for more Uzbeks and Pashtuns, who mostly support Mr. Ghani.

The IEC deferred comment to the Independent Election Complaints Commission, which said it was looking into the allegations.

Tahir Zahir, a spokesman for Mr. Ghani, said: “It is very easy to duplicate someone’s voice but a body with authority and the election complaints commission should investigate its authenticity.”

There has been no official comment from the outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, who has not publicly supported either candidate. He was unable to stand for election again.

The broadcasts coupled with an apparent escalation in protests, so far only numbering in the hundreds or low thousands, have intensified long-standing concerns of a struggle for power along ethnic lines. Several hundred of Mr. Abdullah’s supporters protested outside the presidential palace, while others gathered and disrupted traffic for a second day on the main road leading to the international airport.

In western Herat province, hundreds of Abdullah supporters gathered and chanted “death to IEC” and “Fraudsters must be tried.”

Protesters made their way to Herat governor’s office and around 60 burnt their voting cards in protest.

“We are tired of fraud and we are against it,” said Abdul Rahman, a protester who burnt his voting ID in Herat.

“We had the right to cast one vote and when the Independent Election Commission does not respect our right then there is no need to have a voting card. We will not participate in elections any more.”

In northern Kunduz province, armed men from Mr. Abdullah’s campaign forcibly shut down the election office, according to Amir Amza Ahmadzai, head of IEC in Kunduz.

“We have already sent an official letter to the police but they haven’t responded yet,” he said.

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