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Afghan candidate meets poll officials amid crisis

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan presidential candidate has met with the country's electoral commission, the United Nations said Tuesday, part of a bid to diffuse a crisis over his claims of fraud in the country's runoff election.

The meeting between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and the Independent Election Commission came after its chief electoral officer resigned Monday over the mounting dispute threatening to derail Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power.

The U.N. mission in Afghanistan said in a statement that the meeting between Abdullah and the commission "allowed for an exchange of views" and that it encouraged Abdullah and his competitor, ex-Finance Minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, to cooperate with each other and in the electoral process.

Abdullah has said his campaign monitors had recorded ballot box stuffing and other irregularities in the June 14 vote.

Abdullah won the first round but failed to gain the majority needed to avoid a runoff in the race to replace President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

According to the election commission's official timetable, preliminary results are due on July 2, and final results on July 23. Karzai has set Aug. 2 as the date for the new president to be inaugurated.

Meanwhile Tuesday, gunmen opened fire and lobbed hand grenades at the checkpoint in Obey district in Herat province, killing two police officers and two civilians, administrative district chief Mohammad Rafiq Alokozay said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the Taliban have stepped up their summer offensive against Afghan security forces in a bid to undermine the Western-backed government as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of the year.

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