Afghan poll: Abdullah 'extends lead' as count continues

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul, Afghanistan, 20 April 2014 Dr Abdullah also competed in the 2009 elections, where he came second

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has extended his lead over his rival Ashraf Ghani, according to latest partial results from the presidential election.

Dr Abdullah, a former foreign minister, has 44% of the vote while Mr Ghani has 33%, election officials say. About half the votes have been counted.

About seven million people voted across 34 provinces in the 5 April poll.

A runoff will take place in late May if no candidate gets a majority.

Final results are expected on 14 May. Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani has warned that the current statistics are "partial" and "changeable".

Security challenge

Speaking after the latest results were announced, Dr Abdullah said he was ready for a second round.

"It's important that the process is a free and fair one," he told AP news agency.

"If it goes to the second round in accordance to the rule of law, we are ready for that as well. At this stage, we believe that another round might not be needed."

Zalmai Rassoul, another former foreign minister, who is believed to be President Hamid Karzai's preferred successor, has 10% of the vote from the first round.

Afghan women enter a polling station to vote in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, 5 April 2014 About seven million Afghans voted in the 5 April elections

The Taliban failed to disrupt the first round but warmer weather, at the height of the so-called fighting season, would make a second round more of a security challenge, the BBC's David Loyn in Kabul reports.

If this lead widens further as more results come in, then Dr Abdullah's ability to form a government on his terms would be unstoppable, our correspondent adds.

Possible electoral fraud has been a concern, but the election body responsible for dealing with complaints has previously said that it would be weeks before it rules on the issue.

There were allegations of large-scale fraud when Mr Karzai was re-elected in 2009. Dr Abdullah came second in that poll.

Mr Karzai is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

The next president will face several challenging issues, including the expected withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan and ongoing attacks by the Taliban.

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