In his first public appearance since Afghanistans elections a month ago, President Karzai denied yesterday that massive fraud had taken place to secure him a second term in office and blamed Western media for persistent claims of ballot rigging. I believe firmly, firmly in the integrity of the election and the integrity of the Afghan people, and the integrity of the Government in that process, he said, a day after European Union observers warned that about 1.5 million votes including more than a million for the incumbent should be considered potentially fake. The President had kept a low profile as a welter of fraud charges were levelled by his rivals, Western observers and the UN-backed elections watchdog. His comments yesterday came after the Independent Elections Commission , an Afghan body that his opponents accuse of partiality, said that a full initial count showed that Mr Karzai was the outright winner. The President avoided declaring victory, however, saying that he would have to await the results of an investigation by the UN-sponsored Electoral Complaints Commission. The EU said that as many as a third of Mr Karzais votes might need to be discounted, but he said that he was aware of only minor fraud. Fraud, if it were conducted, has to be investigated, and investigated fairly, he said. The failure of the election commission to declare a winner, almost a month after the polls, has raised fears of a political vacuum that could last until next spring as inspectors sift through thousands of tainted ballots. If Mr Karzais share of the vote currently a little under 55 per cent slips below 50 per cent as ballots are rejected, he will have to face a second round against his closest rival, Abdullah Abdullah, who received about 29 per cent of the vote. Speaking at a separate press conference, Dr Abdullah said that a fraudulent win for the Government would further boost a resurgent Taleban. Illegitimate rule can only help the insurgency to strengthen, he said. Publicly, both men have ruled out forming a national unity government. However, The Wall Street Journal reported that Dr Abdullah would be willing to enter a government with Mr Karzai if the President were to offer a serious and substantial power-sharing agreement. (The Times)