US Vice President Joe Biden will begin a two-day visit to Ukraine on Monday, hours after a fragile Easter truce was shattered and pro-Kremlin rebels in the country's east appealed for help from Russian "peacekeepers".
Local officials in northern Baghlan province on Sunday said unknown gunmen shot dead an Afghan girl on Saturday while she was returning home after seeking asylum with provincial authorities the day before.
The incident took place in Pul-e-Khumri district, along the Tala and Barfak district highway, and the gunmen were able to flee the scene before police arrived. The girl was named Amina.
Amina fled from her home on Friday to get asylum at the provincial Ministry of Women's Affairs, according to the Ministry's representative, Khadija Yaqeen.
She was picked up by the National Directorate of Security (NDS), investigated and then brought to the provincial Women's Affairs office.
"I decided to run away because I was not happy with my fiancé" Amena told officials on Friday. "I am going back to my father's house and there is no threat to me; I am going with my brother because I trust that my brother will not tease me."
The girl spent a night at the Ministry and on Saturday she decided to go back to her family home. Amina and her fiancé were living at her father's house.
"She kept insisting that she wanted to be sent home, so we contacted her family and her family came to the Directorate and she was presented to go home, but then she was killed on the way home," Yaqeen said.
Ahmad Jawid Basharat, the Baghlan Police Chief, said the unknown gunmen shot Amina while she was with some of her family members. He seemed to place partial blame on the local office of Women's Affairs, which he said failed to coordinate Amina's departure with police.
"Amena escaped from home on Friday and came to Pul Khumri city and was arrested by the NDS and after an investigation, she was sent to the Directorate of Women Affairs of Baghlan," Basharat said. "The Directorate of Women Affairs, without keeping police in the loop, handed her over to her family..."
Basharat said officers have been sent to the Tala and Barfak to head up an investigation.
The Electoral Complaints Commission announced on Sunday in a press conference that 150 ballot boxes, including some 100,000 votes, would be discounted in Herat due to obvious signs of tampering.
The announcement comes after the recounting and inspection process began in Herat on Wednesday, as it did in provinces around the country.
"Our preliminary results show that close to 150 boxes will be voided in this province," ECC Herat chief Abdullah Sherzai said.
The ECC has received just under 900 complaints that directly relate to election results. And the IEC has said it is committed to separating all fraudulent votes from the counting process in order to ensure an uncorrupted outcome.
One member of the Herat ECC disagreed with the decision to void the boxes, calling on the central office in Kabul to intervene.
"I do not agree with the voiding of these boxes, I hope that the central office will address this problem," Herat ECC member Abdul Razaq Nejrabi said.
Representatives of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah also spoke out against the discounting, questioning whether or not it was legal for the IEC to do.
"We do not expect this, and this is against the conduct of the IEC, we ask the officials to address this issue," said Muhammad Naser Khazeh, a member of Abdullah's campaign in Herat.
Reportedly, the boxes in question are from the districts of Shindand, Adraskan, Farsi, Angelel, Gazra, Rubat Sangi and Gulran.
With nearly half of all votes counted, observers and election analysts on Sunday said the Independent Election Commission (IEC) must maintain the utmost neutrality throughout the process or Afghanistan could face crisis.
After the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) revealed last week that over 1,000 of roughly 3,000 total complaints it received implicated IEC employees in acts of fraud, questions have been raised about the commission's neutrality, and ability to conduct the vote counting process fair and transparently.
"There is no doubt that if they want, they can make changes," former IEC chief Azizullah Lodin said. "During the process, they can change 50 to 500 and vice versa, it is possible."
However, Lodin said the demand for a credible process this year is uniquely high, with so much pressure weighing down on the election process.
The NATO coalition is prepared to pullout of Afghanistan by December, leaving the security future of the long embattled country uncertain. Moreover, as the country's first democratic transition of power in modern history, the transition form two-term President Hamid Karzai to a new leader is in its essence a trip to uncharted waters.
Based on partial results counted so far, presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah leads the race, 11 percentage points ahead of Ahsraf Ghani. For the election to not enter a runoff round, someone must gain an outright majority of votes, which most experts have said is improbable this year.
But not far from any discussion of results is one of fraud, and possible interference in the process.
"If the inspection and announcement of results is done in the presence of candidates and observers, then transparency will be maintained," said Zekria Barekzai, a Political Section Official at Democracy International.
Last week, observers criticized the IEC and ECC for not allowing them to monitor the entire counting and complaints investigation processes.
The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan (TEFA), one of Afghanistan's largest observing organizations, has warned that the credibility of the elections almost entirely rests on the shoulders of the IEC.
"There is disagreements among the leadership of IEC and I hope that these disagreements will not be to the extent where they can have a negative impact on the election process and the work of IEC," TEFA head Muhammad Naeem Ayoubzada said. "These disagreements could have a negative impact on the process and will undermine the IEC's transparency."
However, the IEC has continuously assured the public and election observers that full neutrality is being maintained and any internal discord among leaders of the commission is not impacting the process.
"Members of the IEC make decisions based on the majority, and this right is given to them by law," IEC spokesman Noor Muhammad Noor said. "Please do not forget that views among members of the commission are different, but at the end of the day, their decision will be based on Afghanistan's laws."
Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) member Azizullah Aryafar has called attention to a move by election officials to void 150 voting centers in Herat, which he called illegal.
In the weeks since Election Day, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) and ECC have had their hands full with the twin tasks of counting votes and investigating fraud. So far, thousands of votes have been pulled for inspection, and the ECC has said around 870 complaints it has received pertain directly to election results.
Mr. Aryafar's claims were based largely on the fact that the review of provincial results ended nearly a week ago, making the new set of invalidations in Herat far too late in the process.
"This move is illegal because the legal deadline in provinces ended on April 14," Aryafar said. "Based on Article 2, 63rd Provision, elections commissions were to announce their inspection results 10 days after the election, which has not been done."
According to Aryafar and others, the processes of the IEC and ECC have seen a number of delays since the elections, which likely portend a rescheduling for results announcements. Preliminary results are expected to be announced by April 24, and final results by May 14.
"As far as we know, in many instances they have only inspected 10 percent or 15 percent and even less in some other provinces," Aryafar said regarding voting centers.
The aggrieved ECC member also said that the decision to discount the ballot boxes in Herat was based on reports from separate observing institutions and were not well-documented.
"Based on 58th Article of the elections law, ballot boxes can only be set aside for election if there are signs of fraud," Aryafar said. "Currently, the boxes that have been set aside are only on the basis of reports from observing institutions such as TEFA and FEFA, which is against the law."
Aryafar expressed the concern that if the vote counting and fraud investigation process continued as it is, discord could increase among the candidates and the public.
TOLOnews attempted to reach the ECC and its spokesman's office for comment, but were unable to do so.