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Abdullah rejects US-brokered audit of Afghan election

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday (August 3) withdrew his support from an anti-fraud audit of votes, as US-led efforts to keep the election on track descended into further uncertainty.

KABUL: Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Sunday (August 3) withdrew his support from an anti-fraud audit of votes, as US-led efforts to keep the election on track descended into further uncertainty.

The country's first democratic transfer of power has been engulfed in a dispute over alleged fraud, wrecking hopes that the election would be seen as a key achievement of the international military and civilian aid effort since 2001. Instead, the contest between Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, and Ashraf Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, threatens to spark a spiral of instability as NATO troops pull out and violence increases nationwide.

After Abdullah rejected preliminary results that named Ghani as the winner of the June 14 election, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded the two candidates to agree to the audit to sift out fraudulent votes. But the UN-supervised process triggered another outbreak of disagreements, and Abdullah's campaign on Sunday refused to rejoin the process after repeated stoppages.

"The UN had promised us that they would only begin again after our concerns are met, but, despite that, the process has resumed," Baryalai Arsalai, Abdullah's campaign manager, told reporters. "This is a continuation of illegal action by the IEC (Independent Election Commission) and we condemn it."

More than eight million votes were cast on polling day, but Abdullah quickly lodged complaints that "industrial-scale" fraud had denied him victory. Abdullah's team also alleged on Sunday that second Vice President Karim Khalili had been caught on tape saying that President Hamid Karzai was working illegally in favour of Ghani. Karzai has vowed to stay neutral in the election, while Khalili's office was not immediately available for comment.

At the audit centre in Kabul, IEC spokesman Noor Mohammad Noor told reporters: "The commission waited yesterday and today, but Dr Abdullah's observers are not here. We have decided to continue the audit without any further interruptions."

'NEGATIVE IMPACT'

The new president was set to be inaugurated on August 2, but the date was missed - to the frustration of many Afghans, the UN, NATO and foreign diplomats in Kabul.

"The result of the audit should be known by August 25, so we can have the transfer of power by the end of the month," Karzai's spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP. "We hope that the two candidates will have an understanding that further delay is not in the interest of the country. The delay has had a negative impact on the economy, on the security situation, on public opinion."

A US State Department official said on Saturday (August 2) that Kerry had spoken to Abdullah and Ghani to reiterate US support for the audit as well as the formation of a unity government after the result.

The first-round vote in April and the June run-off were both hailed for their high turnouts and lack of major militant attacks, but the fraud allegations soon undermined a burst of optimism over Afghanistan's prospects. Daud Sultanzoy, a spokesman for Ghani, accused Abdullah of reneging on an agreement over how the audit would be conducted.

"Their demands keep changing, our negotiations have ended and we have accepted what the UN has proposed, but they want the whole process to begin again," Sultanzoy told Tolo TV news. "If that is the case, we will also start everything from zero again."

Abdullah believes he was also cheated of victory in the 2009 election when President Karzai retained power. Karzai, who has ruled since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is barred from standing for a third term in office.

In a grim reflection of unrest across Afghanistan, a UN report last month revealed that civilian casualties from the conflict soared by 24 per cent in the first half of 2014. Any street unrest by the candidates' supporters would revive memories of the 1992-1996 civil war.

Abdullah draws most of his support from Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups, while Ghani's support base is mainly among the Pashtun tribes of the south and east.

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