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Afghan president supports calls for UN mediation

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai has thrown his support behind calls for U.N. mediation to resolve complaints about massive fraud in a runoff vote between two candidates seeking to replace him.

Abdullah Abdullah, who is running against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, has accused electoral officials and others of trying to rig the June 14 vote against him. That has threatened what Western officials had hoped would be a peaceful transfer of authority, as Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

Karzai told clerics during a meeting on Friday that he met with U.N. officials and spoke to Abdullah on the telephone about the issue.

Seeking to allay fears he might use the crisis to hold onto power, Karzai also set Aug. 2 as the date to inaugurate a new leader.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Guards in a provincial governor’s convoy traded gunfire with policemen at a checkpoint Friday in northern Afghanistan, prompting clashes that left four of the guards dead and four policemen wounded, officials said.

There were conflicting accounts about how the fighting started. A spokesman for Juma Khan Hamdard, who is from Mazar-i-Sharif but is the governor of the southern Paktia province, said the convoy was headed south when it was attacked by gunmen wearing police uniforms. The spokesman Ruhollah Samoon, who was in the convoy when the gunbattle broke out, said Hamdard had been visiting his family and was en route back to Paktia province with a stop planned in Kabul.

The governor – a member of the Pashtun majority and an adviser to President Hamid Karzai – was not injured, but four of his bodyguards were killed, Samoon said.

Police spokesman Shir Jan Duran, however, said the bodyguards clashed with police at a checkpoint outside Mazar-i-Sharif, and he said four policemen were wounded. He said authorities were investigating the shooting.

Munir Ahmad, a spokesman for the local government in Balkh province, said Hamdard’s convoy didn’t stop at the checkpoint, prompting the gunbattle. The reports couldn’t be independently confirmed.

The violence came as Afghanistan is facing a major political crisis amid allegations of massive fraud in a June 14 runoff vote between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who are vying to replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round but didn’t get the majority needed to avoid a runoff, has accused electoral officials of engineering widespread ballot box stuffing and other irregularities.

In other violence Friday, a mortar shell slammed into a home in the eastern province of Nangarhar, killing one child and wounding five others, provincial government spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai said.

Abdulzai said the attack took place in the Momand Dara district and all the children were from the same family.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in a very remote area, but Abdulzai said the Taliban often fire rockets and mortar shells toward villages.