(For more on Afghanistan, click on [ID:nAFPAK])
* Car bombs kill 40, wounds 60 in southern Kandahar
* Karzai leads rival 41 percent to 39 percent
* U.S. envoy urges caution, says results "misleading"
* Four U.S. service members killed by bomb in south
By Jonathon Burch and Golnar Motevalli
KABUL, Aug 25 With early results on Tuesday
showing Afghanistan's presidential race neck-and-neck, a massive
truck bomb that killed 40 civilians and wounded 60 in Kandahar
showed the scale of problems facing the eventual winner.
The blast took place shortly after dusk as Afghans across
the country were breaking their daily fast in the holy Muslim
month of Ramadan.
There was confusion over whether the explosion was from one
big truck bomb or a series of smaller, simultaneous devices. A
Reuters witness saw a restuarant set ablaze and a shop and
several houses flattened.
Provincial Governor Ahmed Wali Karzai told Reuters that 40
people were killed and more than 60 wounded, all civilians.
Four U.S. servicemen were killed by a roadside bomb
elsewhere in the south, NATO and the U.S. military said, making
2009 the deadliest year for the growing contingent of foreign
troops in eight years of war.
Earlier, the first partial results from last Thursday's
election had President Hamid Karzai and his main rival running
neck-and-neck, suggesting a close race headed for a second
The country has been in political limbo since the vote, with
Karzai and chief rival Abdullah Abdullah each claiming victory.
Abdullah and other challengers have accused Karzai and the
authorities of widespread fraud.
The elections are a major test for Karzai after eight years
in power and for U.S. President Barack Obama, who has poured in
thousands of extra troops as part of his new regional strategy
to defeat the Taliban and stabilise Afghanistan.
ENVOY URGES CAUTION
The partial election results, based on 10 percent of votes
counted, gave Karzai a slight edge with 41 percent against 39
percent for Abdullah, his former foreign minister -- a
difference of about 10,000 out of about 524,000 valid votes
Election officials warned against drawing conclusions about
the final count from the initial samples. They promise to
provide daily updates but the complete count is not due until
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke urged caution, saying the early
results were misleading.
"You don't call it with 10 percent. It's too early to call,"
Holbrooke, who left Afghanistan on Monday, told reporters in
Behind the two leaders, Ramazan Bashardost, a member of the
Hazara ethnic minority who ran a quixotic campaign from a tent
across the street from parliament, placed third with around 11
percent. Former finance minister Ashraf Ghani won 3 percent.
Speaking after the announcement of first results, Abdullah
said it was too early to draw any conclusions, but he would not
accept any outcome affected by major fraud.
"The main issue is whether we should accept the big fraud to
decide the outcome of the elections. Big fraud, whatever is the
outcome, I will not accept," Abdullah said.
"It should come out and those who are responsible should be
dealt with according to the law," he told Reuters at his home in
Abdullah said his camp had lodged some 200 complaints with
the election complaints commission.
Karzai was not immediately available for comment.
The results also suggest a disappointing turnout of only
around 5 million votes in a country of some 30 million people
and an estimated 15 million eligible voters.
Taliban fighters had launched attacks and threatened
reprisals against voters during the election, scaring many
Afghans away from the polls, especially in the violent south.
More than 30,000 extra U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan
this year, most part of a package of reinforcements ordered by
Obama in May in resposne to a growing Taliban insurgency.
More than 100,000 Western troops are now in the country,
63,000 of them Americans.
The number of foreign troops killed in Afghanistan this year
now stands at 295, according to icasualties.org, a website which
compiles official figures. Last year, 294 died.
The U.S. reinforcements sent by Obama, along with a British
contingent already deployed in the south, have advanced deep
into formerly Taliban-held territory, taking heavy casualties
mainly from roadside bombs. More Western troops have died since
March than in the entire period from 2001-2004.