KABUL: European Union (EU) observers on Thursday called for an anti-fraud audit into Afghanistan's election to be hugely expanded, describing data from many polling stations as "very worrying".
The June 14 election has been mired in allegations of cheating, and the preliminary results have been delayed as the most suspicious ballot boxes are checked by the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power has been in turmoil since presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said he would reject the result and dismissed the IEC as illegitimate.
Abdullah, once a front-runner in the race, alleges he was the victim of "industrial-scale" fraud, with many more votes than voters registered in some areas.
Abdullah's poll rival Ashraf Ghani has said he won fairly by more than one million votes and accuses Abdullah of refusing to accept defeat -- raising the prospect of a tense stalemate as US-led troops withdraw from Afghanistan.
"I have serious concerns about a significant number of polling stations," EU chief election observer Thijs Berman said.
"I have no conclusions on possible fraud because this you can only do when you have done an in-depth audit, but the indications are very worrying."
The IEC said Wednesday that about 2,000 of the 23,000 polling stations would be audited to root out cheating, but the EU team urged it to broaden the probe to 6,000 stations.
"I insist on the necessity to enlarge the audit," Berman told reporters.
The calls will add to pressure on the IEC, which is now due to reveal preliminary results on Monday.
Both candidates have welcomed any effort to discount fraudulent votes, but Abdullah's boycott of the IEC remains in place and Ghani has complained that the delay breaks promises to stick to the election timetable.
The United Nations (UN) has warned ethnic tensions are rising over the deadlock and expressed fears of instability as rhetoric between rival supporters sharpens.
The election to succeed President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, comes as US-led troops end their 13-year war against the Taliban insurgency.
Following a period for complaints to be heard, the final election result is now expected on July 24.
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