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Probe launched into Afghan poll

Challengers back off calls for boycott


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Qanooni has backed off his boycott.
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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- An investigation has been launched into complaints about Afghanistan's landmark election as one of the main challengers has backed off calls for a boycott of the results.

The Joint Election Management Board asked the United Nations to appoint an independent panel to investigate the protests and make recommendations.

The panel was set to look into complaints which included reports that ink intended to stain voters' hands to prevent multiple voting was replaced and easily washed off, the U.N.-Afghan board said in a statement.

The panel will comprise a Canadian diplomat, an election specialist from Sweden and a third member yet to be named by the European Union.

The move appears to have dampened criticism of irregularities that led to most candidates who ran against U.S.-backed interim President Hamid Karzai calling for a nullification.

Ethnic Tajik candidate Yunus Qanooni has joined several other candidates -- including Haji Mohammed Mohaqeq -- in agreeing to accept the findings of the independent commission.

Karzai -- who is expected to win the nation's first vote to directly elect their president -- said the poll was fair and legitimate.

"We should respect the result, whatever that may be, and allow time for the joint commission to study whatever irregularities that there were," Karzai said.

It is the first election since a U.S.-backed coalition ousted the hardline Taliban regime in 2002.

Earlier, observers monitoring the weekend vote rejected calls for a new poll, saying there was no reason to nullify the results.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Monday that it agreed with the board that nullifying the election was unjustified despite some irregularities in the voting process.

"[Nullifying the election] would not do service to the people of Afghanistan who came out at great personal risk to vote," said Robert Barry, head of the organization.

Europe's 40-member election team assisted in monitoring the election.

"We believe that the candidates who have objections should submit them to the kind of investigation that the joint electoral management body has offered."

In addition to the ink controversy, monitors saw campaign or election officials coaching people on how to vote.

The process is expected to be slow. Ray Kennedy, vice chair of the election board, said accounting for the ballot boxes -- some hauled by donkey from remote polling stations -- must be completed before ballots are removed and votes counted.

Such a process could take several days, he said.

The board directed the investigative panel to focus its attention first on issues that could require pulling specific ballot boxes from the counting process, thereby allowing the counting to continue.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has praised peacekeepers for maintaining security during the vote after meeting President Karzai on Monday.

Two thousand German peacekeepers are serving in Afghanistan.

In Washington U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice praised the elections and the Afghan people, telling reporters Sunday the irregularities were minor and the nation's election law would take care of the problems.

"The Afghan people behaved wonderfully," she said. "It was peaceful for the large part. The terrorists did not succeed in disrupting the election."

"Technical problems arise ... even in the most mature countries in the world," she added.

The international community is keen the election be widely accepted as legitimate.

Western donors pumped aid into Afghanistan after the collapse of the Taliban and the United Nations has been closely involved in the election, which many believe will endorse the U.S.-backed interim government.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour and Peter Bergen contributed to this report.


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