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Funding shortfall leads to Afghan vote delay

/ Source: The Associated Press

Afghanistan on Sunday postponed parliamentary elections until September due to a lack of funding from donor nations after widespread fraud in last year's presidential poll.

The announcement came as President Hamid Karzai left for Turkey, the start of a tour that will include Berlin and London. Karzai will appeal for financial and other support for his government. Another flawed election would erode support for Karzai's government at a time when he has pledged to battle corruption and improve services as fighting against the Taliban escalates.

Three U.S. service members were killed in two separate bombings Sunday in southern Afghanistan. That brings to 25 the number of American deaths in Afghanistan so far this month, compared with 14 for the whole of January last year.

The Independent Election Commission, whose chairman is appointed by the president, has said it needed about $50 million from the international community to pay for the parliamentary election, budgeted to cost $120 million.

That money has not come through in time to hold the vote as planned on May 22, according to commissioner Fazel Ahmed Manawi. He also attributed the delay to security concerns, logistical challenges and the need to improve the election process at a news conference to announce the decision.

The vote will be held on Sept. 18 instead, Manawi said.

The United Nations said the decision would allow time to prepare for the vote and to improve the electoral process based on lessons learned from past votes. "This would have been extremely difficult to do by the original date," it said in a statement.

Deficiencies in earlier vote
Canada's ambassador to Afghanistan, William Crosbie, said it was important to address the deficiencies in the presidential election before holding another vote.

"We encourage the Afghan government and the Independent Election Commission to set the necessary conditions for parliamentary elections that are credible, secure and inclusive," he said in a statement.

U.S. lawmakers and other critics had pressed for a postponement in the wake of last August's disputed poll that re-elected Karzai, warning that holding the vote without substantive electoral reform could undermine support for U.S. aid to the insurgency-wracked country.

Karzai had insisted the constitution, which specifies the elections be held by May, must be observed. But Manawi said Sunday that a review of the constitution and the electoral law paved the way for the postponement.

An Afghan official familiar with the decision said the government has $70 million left over from the previous election, but donor countries said they wouldn't provide the remainder until they could do a thorough assessment of how the money was spent last year.

The new date was set after the international community promised to provide the money by that time, according to the official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the details.

The August presidential vote was so tarnished by voting irregularities that U.N.-backed fraud investigators threw out more than a million ballots — forcing Karzai into a second-round vote. The runoff was later canceled when Karzai's top challenger, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out, saying he was not confident the vote would be fair.

Some nations also were concerned that having to guard polling stations in May would be a distraction for the 37,000 U.S. and NATO reinforcements being deployed with orders to stall the Taliban's momentum.

Blasts in southern Afghanistan
Sunday's bombings brought to five the number of American troops killed in bombings over two days in southern Afghanistan, which is expected to be the main focus of the troop surge.

The first explosion killed two troops and one died in a second blast, NATO said in separate statements.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, has warned the risk to foreign troops will increase along with the influx, which is aimed at stabilizing the country.

A suicide bomber in southern Helmand province also targeted U.S. troops in a market Saturday, killing two Afghan children, officials said. NATO reported two U.S. service members killed in the area earlier Saturday but would not specify if it was the same attack, pending notification of their families.

Helmand government spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said the bomber was targeting U.S. troops on a foot patrol and three civilians also were wounded in the attack in the Khan Neshin district.

NATO said in a statement that the two civilians killed were children.

Karzai planned to meet with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari as well as Turkish officials during his visit to Turkey. He was then to travel to Berlin on Tuesday to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leading lawmakers before heading to London for conference Thursday, when international and Afghan officials will discuss ways of shoring up the government in Kabul.