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Posted: 11/3/2004 9:11:51 AM EDT
Let democracy flourish.

From the AP:

KABUL, Afghanistan  — Hamid Karzai was declared the winner of Afghanistan's landmark presidential election Wednesday, after investigators concluded that a string of irregularities were too minor to overturn his triumph.

The country's joint U.N.-Afghan electoral board confirmed that the American-backed incumbent had clinched a five-year term as the country's first popularly chosen leader.

"His excellency Hamid Karzai is the winner of the election," board chairman Zakim Shah (search) said at a ceremony in the capital. "We are announcing the first elected president of Afghanistan."

Shah said Karzai won 55.4 percent support in the Oct. 9 election, 39 points clear of his closest challenger and enough to avoid a second round.

A spokesman for Karzai, who was in the United Arab Emirates (search) for the funeral of its late president, said his camp was "very glad to finally have the result we wanted" and appealed to rivals to put a bruising campaign behind them.

"We are starting a new life, a new Afghanistan and we hope everyone with cooperate with its reconstruction," Elmi said.

Karzai was expected to make a victory speech in the Afghan capital on Thursday.

However, his nearest rival, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni (search), refused to concede defeat, raising the risk of political instability in a country slowly emerging from a quarter-century of war.

In its final report released Wednesday, the election panel confirmed problems including ballot stuffing and with ink used to mark people's fingers to prevent multiple voting.

But it said there was "no evidence" that the problems were widespread, or that they favored only Karzai.

"There were shortcomings," Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish election expert on the panel, said at a news conference. "But they could not have materially affected the overall result."

Qanooni's running mate, Syed Hussein Alemi Balkhi (search), said the report was "unacceptable" but stopped short of saying that they would reject the election result.

"We had a lot of questions, but the panel was not able to answer them," Balkhi said. "We are not satisfied with their findings."

Karzai has vowed to accelerate the slow rebuilding of a country shattered by war and drought with the goal of doubling the income of ordinary Afghans by 2009.

But any attempt to focus on the economy will be complicated by the challenge of confronting warlords and drug traffickers even as a stubborn insurgency grinds on.

The size of his task — and the rancor surrounding the vote — has also been highlighted by an ongoing hostage crisis involving three foreign election workers.

The abduction has been claimed by a splinter group of the Taliban, which had vowed to attack the election process, but officials also suspect the involvement of militia leaders who could lose out if Karzai presses on with efforts to disarm unruly warlords.

More than 8 million Afghans cast their ballots more than three weeks ago in a show of enthusiasm for a democratic experiment on which Taliban rebels had declared war.

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