By Vincent Bevins and agencies

Counting has begun in Afghanistan amid further evidence that turnout was uneven and claims of fraud may need to be investigated.

Election officials have confirmed earlier reports that turnout was low, especially in the south, where incumbent Hamid Karzai’s support is stronger. AP reported that voting in Kandahar, the south’s largest city and the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace, appeared to be 40% lower than in 2004. Abdullah Abdullah, who is more popular with the Tajik communities in the North, may benefit enough from this imbalance to force a run-off.

Scattered violence and clear threats of violence closed at least 800 poll stations (12% of total) and kept many voters from those that were open.

The Guardian reported that Ashraf Ghani, another presidential candidate, acknowledged widespread claims of fraud and hoped they could be resolved through official channels.

Barring hold-ups, some preliminary results may be released as early as Saturday and the final results should be announced 17 September.

The return of Abdul Rashid Dostum, a notorious warlord, to Afghanistan only days ahead of the country’s presidential and provincial elections, was “appalling”, Richard Holbrooke, US President Barack Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, said on Thursday.

Mr Holbrooke, who was visiting some of Kabul’s polling stations on election day, said he was “moved” by the sight of Afghans going to the polls to chose their leaders, defying threats of violence by Taliban militants.

“What we have seen is what you want to see,” Mr Holbrooke told the Financial Times. “Many predicted that these [elections] wouldn’t be held.”

Read the full story from James Lamont in Kabul here: US envoy hits out at Karzai deal

Follow the day’s events so far on the blog below.

By Vincent Bevins

The credible threat of violence from Afghan militants appears to have been effective in keeping many voters away from the polls. Various reports claim more than two-thirds of polling stations in Afghanistan appear empty when compared to the last presidential elections five years ago.

Correspondents and officials have indicated turnout is better in the more secure north of Afghanistan, where presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah has stronger support. A strong performance by Mr Abdullah would force a second round.

Violence has not been absent, however, with reports of suicide and mortar attacks in various locations throughout Afghanistan.

The supposedly indelible ink which has been used to mark the fingers of voters seems to be removable. Despite this, insurgents have made good on the promise to kill people marked with it in at least one case.

The opening of polling stations has been extended until 6pm local time.

Below are some of the day’s main updates so far.

The economic crisis has prompted governments across the world to re-evaluate their financial regulatory framework, to try to tackle the causes of, and fallout from, the global downturn. The next 12 months could bring the most dramatic change in financial services regulation in decades.

Our graphic explains the existing framework and proposed changes to financial regulation in the EU, US and UK. Will these changes prevent another financial crisis? Leave your comments below.

Just when we thought the focus on Sir David Walker’s report would be pay, now the worry is about banks’ possibly making even more errors of judgment.

Richard Northedge questions whether there will be meddling by ‘amateur’ non-execs and investors, even if bankers can ‘get it wrong’ sometimes. Could they do more damage than Fred the Shred? But perhaps The Edge is right in questioning whether the Walker proposals might be made compulsory across all companies.  And he raises the issue of better training.

Channel 4′s John Snow has weighed into the debate as well, questioning whether banks can really change their greedy habits? Don’t hold your breath on getting more transparency, concludes the C4 news host.

Should London’s bankers be shaking in their boots – or watching their wallets – after the release of the Walker Review published this morning?

A large amount of attention has been paid to proposals on bankers’ remuneration, one of 39 recommendations in Sir David Walker’s report. Bonuses are once again in the headlines due to Goldman Sachs boosting the pay of its staff back to pre-boom levels.

Sir David, a former chairman of Morgan Stanley International, wants bank boards’ remuneration committees to take on far more work, scrutinising the pay of anyone who earns more than the average board-level executive.

The FT’s City editor Andrew Hill says that this move was a surprise with a tougher than expected constraint on bankers’ bonuses. The challenge, of course, remains whether any of these proposals will prevent another banking crisis.

Indeed, a push to disclose the pay and bonuses of City high-flyers dominated some discussion this morning on the FT’s Alphaville site, even before the report was published.

While hopes for greater transparency on the part of banks seems to be the gist of government and business reaction, the blogosphere needs convincing.

The BBC’s business editor Robert Peston questions whether banks can really change their habits. Indeed, some question whether a flurry of reports on banking will generate anything more than just comment.

Interestingly, another angle to be followed could be concerns that Sir David’s proposals will reduce the international competitiveness of the City. Sir David has tried to head this off already by saying ‘phooey‘ to such criticism.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown today held breakfast talks with Muammar Gaddafi, touching on oil price volatility, improving bilateral relations between Britain and Libya and the sensitive issue of the Lockerbie bombing.

In their first head-to-head meeting, the colonel asked Mr Brown for help in the case of the dying former Libyan agent who is appealing against a life sentence for the 1988 attack.

The Scottish Appeal Court said this week the case would not be concluded until next year, raising concerns that 57-year-old Abdel Basset al-Megrahi – who is suffering from terminal prostate cancer – will die before the appeal finishes.

Mr Brown deftly passed the buck to his old adversary Alex Salmond, the Scotland first minister, pointing out that the Scottish National party leader was responsible for dealing with the issue.

Silvio Berlusconi’s wise decision to avoid over-the-top banqueting arrangements at the G8 summit has been welcomed by summiteers in L’Aquila but the menus have not gone down well with everyone.

Sarah Brown, wife of the British prime minister, complains today that she is tiring of being presented with veal, a meat she refuses to eat on ethical grounds because of allegedly cruel production methods.

Writing on Twitter, she said: “Am hoping that no veal served at lunch again
today – have declined it twice this trip as just feel very strongly about it.”

But it hasn’t been all terrible for Mrs Brown. On Thursday she hooked up with George Clooney for a tour of the earthquake damage in L’Aquila.

By Giulia Segreti in L’Aquila

After two days of peaceful and symbolic demonstrations by  its own citizen committees, the town of l’Aquila will become the focus of an anti-G8 Summit march on Friday, organized by independent trade unions.
Franco Gabrielli, prefect of the earthquake-hit town, says he is not too worried but does expect infiltration by violent “no-global” elements.

“There is no exacerbated fear nor a superficial underestimation of what will happen tomorrow. It will be, however, a demonstration against the G8 summit and there will be people who will come into l’Aquila with non-peaceful purposes,” says Mr Gabrielli.

The march is being organized by the Cub, Cobas and Sdl unions and starts from the quake-hit town of Paganica and intends to finish in L’Aquila’s central park.  Fifteen buses will bring marchers from Rome and more from Milan and the regions of Tuscany, Puglia and Campania. Cub expects about 2,000 to show up, while Cobas hopes for over  7,000 people, matched by similar numbers of local people.

Although the organisation committee had initially said that it would march up to the doors of the military barracks where the summit is being held, there is no intention of violating the “red zone”. “Violence is not part of our philosophy. We do not want to put on a clown show. our Prime Minister is already very active in this sector ,” says Alex Miozzi, spokesperson for Cub. “On our side, we guarantee 100 per cent no violence although in other countries red zones do not exist,”  says Vincenzo Miliucci for Cobas.

The demonstration has been authorized  but there are fears that the core group of participants will be joined by violent demonstrators. On Wednesday three Italian young men travelling towards l’Aquila were stopped by police for carrying metal bats and improvised weapons and rocks.

Since the WTO meeting in Seattle in 1999, the unions have held rallies against the G8 system and campaigned for alternatives.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, head of the IMF, told a news conference more than once after lunch at the G8 summit, expressing his concerns that world leaders had to start thinking seriously about their “exit strategy” after massive fiscal stimulus packages.

Asked by the FT who had paid for his lunch, Mr Strauss-Kahn replied: “Probably you”.

But he defended these ever more frequent gatherings of world leaders – in April in London, this week in L’Aquila and then next to Pittsburgh in September.

“Globalisation is not just a topic for  FT editorial  pages,” he added.

But he also expressed the view that the days of the G8 were numbered as it evolved into something bigger and broader.

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