KABUL, Afghanistan — Hundreds of Afghans protested in the capital on Saturday against alleged fraud in last week's presidential runoff, forcing a closure of the airport road amid escalating tensions over what Western officials had hoped would be a smooth transfer of power.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is running against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister, has accused electoral officials and others of trying to rig the June 14 vote against him.
Abdullah announced this week that he was severing ties with the Independent Election Commission and would refuse to recognize any results it releases. He also suggested that the U.N. step in, an idea supported by President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
The IEC's official timetable says initial results are due on July 2.
Around a thousand Abdullah supporters gathered in Kabul to protest against the electoral commission, accusing it of fraud and chanting: "Our vote is our blood and we will stand up for it!"
While the vote was relatively peaceful, the Taliban had warned people not to participate and carried out a handful of attacks in different parts of the country.
In a separate demonstration, hundreds of Abdullah supporters marched from the northern part of the capital toward the airport, where they were stopped by a police roadblock that preventing anyone from entering or leaving Kabul's international airport.
The U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told a press conference that people had a "democratic right" to protest while urging them to remain peaceful and "refrain from inflammatory statements."
He added that the U.N. would also look at ways of bringing "extra scrutiny" to the ballots.
The country's election commission had previously fired 3,000 staff accused of fraud in the first part of the presidential elections, which determined the two run-off candidates.
Afghanistan's next president is expected to sign a long-delayed security pact to allow nearly 10,000 American troops to remain in the country after most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. Both candidates have promised to sign the pact, but the next president must be sworn in first.
— The Associated Press
Jacob Passy of NBC News contributed to this report.
First published June 21 2014, 8:40 AM