KABUL, Afghanistan — Hundreds of Afghans protested in the capital on Saturday against alleged fraud in last week's presidential runoff, forcing a closure of the airport road amid escalating tensions over what Western officials had hoped would be a smooth transfer of power.
Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who is running against Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a former finance minister, has accused electoral officials and others of trying to rig the June 14 vote against him.
Abdullah announced this week that he was severing ties with the Independent Election Commission and would refuse to recognize any results it releases. He also suggested that the U.N. step in, an idea supported by President Hamid Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.
The IEC's official timetable says initial results are due on July 2.
Around a thousand Abdullah supporters gathered in Kabul to protest against the electoral commission, accusing it of fraud and chanting: "Our vote is our blood and we will stand up for it!"
Hundreds of anti-riot police surrounded the demonstration, which was peaceful.
"We gather today to protest against the election commission, which is not an independent commission at all. They are conducting fraud for a specific candidate," said Mohammed Ghani Sharifi, a 23-year-old protester. "The people are so upset and they cannot tolerate such fraud because the people took risks to cast their votes."
While the vote was relatively peaceful, the Taliban had warned people not to participate and carried out a handful of attacks in different parts of the country.
In a separate demonstration, hundreds of Abdullah supporters marched from the northern part of the capital toward the airport, where they were stopped by a police roadblock that preventing anyone from entering or leaving Kabul's international airport.
"This is not about who becomes the leader of the country, but our protest is because of the fraud. No fraud should have happened for either candidate," said Mohammed Essa, 23, who took part in the second protest, which was also peaceful.
"This is just the beginning of our protests," he added.
The U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Nicholas Haysom, told a press conference that people had a "democratic right" to protest while urging them to remain peaceful and "refrain from inflammatory statements."
When asked how the United Nations could help resolve the dispute, he said "the most important assistance we can give now is to provide a bridge between those who need to be talking to each other."
"At least part of the message that we have for them is that there will be a winner and there will be a loser," he said. He added that the U.N. would also look at ways of bringing "extra scrutiny" to the ballots.