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Attacks across Afghanistan kill 15 people; recount in presidential election halts for holiday

KABUL - Attacks across Afghanistan, including hundreds of Taliban fighters swarming police checkpoints across the south, killed at least 15 people Saturday, officials said, as a recount in the country's presidential election halted before a major holiday.

The Taliban attacks focused on Kandahar province, where Taliban fighters killed six police officers — including a district police chief — in assaults on some 15 checkpoints, said Dawa Khan Menapal, a spokesman for the provincial governor. Menapal said reinforcements later arrived to combat the Taliban fighters and the combat continued into Saturday night.

In Helmand province, a bomb hidden inside a motorcycle killed four civilians and wounded four others in Marjah district, said Omer Zwak, a spokesman for the governor of Helmand province. In Kabul, a bomb blast killed an army officer and wounded his driver, police spokesman Hashmat Stanikzai.

In Herat province, gunmen on motorcycles shot and killed two army officers in the city of Herat, said a provincial security official who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to brief journalists.

In a blow to hoped-for peace talks, the Taliban's reclusive leader warned Friday that a bilateral security pact allowing thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting. Mullah Mohammad Omar called on both Afghan presidential candidates not to sign the agreement.

"We believe the war in Afghanistan will come to an end when all foreign invaders pull out of Afghanistan and a holy Islamic and independent regime prevails here. Presence of limited number of troops under whatever title it may be will mean continuation of occupation and the war," Mullah Omar said in a message issued ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The message was translated into Dari, Arabic, English and Pashto.

Meanwhile in Kabul, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission stopped a recount in the runoff presidential election. Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani told reporters that the recount will resume later next week after Eid al-Fitr .

Unofficial and disputed preliminary results of the June 14 runoff election showed former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

But since fraud was alleged on both sides, a deal negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry provides that every one of the 8 million ballots will be audited under national and international supervision over three or four weeks.

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