President Hamid Karzai has been officially declared Afghanistan's first-ever popularly elected president after a weeks-long fraud probe found no reason to overturn his landslide victory.
While the US-backed leader made an immediate call for unity, his closest rivals refused to concede, undermining hopes for political stability in a country racked by ethnic mistrust.
The UN-sponsored electoral board, confirming the results of the Oct. 9 vote, said Karzai had won a five-year term with 55.4 percent, 39 percentage points more than his nearest rival. It was the first national ballot since the fall of the Taliban three years ago.
"His excellency Hamid Karzai is the winner," board chairman Zakim Shah said at a ceremony on Wednesday broadcast live on Afghan state television. "We are announcing the first elected president of Afghanistan."
In Washington overnight, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We congratulate President Hamid Karzai on his election as Afghanistan's first democratically elected president and we look forward to his inauguration next month."
The UK, Germany and France also wished Karzai well.
High turnout and the lack of major violence on polling day "demonstrates the scale of the transformation that has already taken place in Afghanistan in the three years since the overthrow of the Taliban," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.
NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who bulked up the alliance's Afghan security force during the poll, said he looked forward to working with Karzai "in helping Afghanistan build a better, safer future."
The election itself was delayed from June because of insecurity and logistical problems. The result was then held up by weeks of mudslinging by Karzai's challengers, who threatened to boycott the outcome.
In its final report released on Wednesday, the panel confirmed problems with ballot stuffing and with ink used to mark people's fingers to prevent multiple voting.
But it said there was "no evidence" that the problems were widespread or that they favored only Karzai.
"There were shortcomings," Staffan Darnolf, a Swedish election expert on the panel, said at a news conference. "But they could not have materially affected the overall result."
Karzai was expected to make a victory speech in the Afghan capital yesterday.
However, his nearest rival, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, refused to concede defeat, raising the risk of political instability in a country slowly emerging from a quarter-century of war.
Qanooni's running mate Syed Hussein Alemi Balkhi said the report was "unacceptable" though he stopped short of saying they would reject the result.
Qanooni won 16.3 percent of the vote, ahead of Hazara chieftain Mohammed Mohaqeq with 11.7 percent.
Mohaqeq, who has vowed "never" to recognize Karzai's victory, declined to comment on Wednesday.