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Afghan challenger threatens to quit run-off unless demands are met

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UPDATE: Abdullah plans to call for election boycott

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah plans to call for his supporters to boycott the Nov. 7 run-off election between he and President Hamid Karzai, according to published reports.

Abdullah campaign manager Satar Murad said the candidate will make his announcement during a Sunday press conference, the Associated Press reported.

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“Abdullah will also call for an interim government to run the country until a new, fair vote can be held, Murad said,” AP added.

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Abdullah Abdullah was poised on Saturday to quit Afghanistan’s run-off presidential election unless incumbent Hamid Karzai has a last minute change of heart and bows to a series of demands from his rival.

Officials in Abdullah’s campaign team said the former foreign minister would announce he was pulling out of the November 7 contest on Sunday in the absence of any U-turn by Karzai on measures to combat fraud.

“If by the end of today we do not receive a positive response to our conditions from the government, then Dr. Abdullah himself will announce his reaction to it tomorrow,” Sayed Aqa Fazel Sancharaki, a spokesman for Abdullah’s campaign, told AFP.

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Abdullah is due to make his announcement at an address in Kabul at 9:30 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday, which the media have been invited to attend.

Following widespread fraud in the August first round, Abdullah has demanded Karzai sack the head of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and suspend four ministers who campaigned for the incumbent.

Asked what Abdullah’s stance would be if his conditions are not met, a lawmaker involved in his campaign said the candidate would not take part in the run-off.

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“If our conditions are not met and an election takes place on November 7, that will not be an election but a fraud trap and we will not go for a fraud trap, we will not participate,” Ahmad Bezad told AFP.

Abdullah laid out his demands at a press conference on Monday but they received short shrift from both Karzai and Azizullah Ludin, the chairman of the IEC who was appointed by the president.

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The IEC said Wednesday that Ludin could only be dismissed by the supreme court, while Karzai says Abdullah has no right to interfere in ministerial positions.

A source close to Karzai’s camp said there had been discussions between aides to the two men about Abdullah supporters being given a number of ministries in a unity government after a run-off, but they had stalled.

“There were talks on the possibility of power-sharing in some form. There were huge demands from Abdullah’s side for several ministries, eight ministerial positions, which were not accepted by Karzai,” the source said, while not ruling out an 11th-hour breakthrough.

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A senior European diplomat, however, said negotiations were going on and held out hope of a compromise which would still see Abdullah pull out of the contest but avoid a confrontation by accepting posts for his supporters in government.

“Negotiations are still going on, more than ever. It is very likely that Abdullah has decided not to compete and this will be announced tomorrow morning,” he said.

“If everything goes well, tomorrow’s announcement will be made after a deal has been reached with Karzai’s team.”

Karzai’s share of the vote in the first round fell to 49.67 percent after a UN-backed watchdog deemed around a quarter of all votes cast to be fraudulent.

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Insistent that the fraud had been overstated, Karzai only agreed to a run-off under extensive diplomatic pressure from Washington, highlighted when he made the run-off announcement standing alongside top US Senator John Kerry.

Asked whether the outcome of a run-off with only one candidate would result in a legitimate government, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said such situations are “not unprecedented”.

“We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward. I don’t think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election,” she said.

“I’m not going to comment on what any of the candidates might decide to do,” Clinton said, adding: “It’s a personal choice which may or may not be made.”

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Abdullah won just over 30 percent in the first round and has a mountain to climb if he is to overhaul Karzai in the run-off.

As well as fears over fraud, the build-up to next Saturday’s election is taking place against the backdrop of a raging Taliban insurgency.

The Islamists, whose ouster in late 2001 by a US-led coalition led to Karzai’s coming to power, have promised to intensify their attacks in the wake of a deadly assault earlier this week on a UN guesthouse.

US President Barack Obama met military chiefs Friday to consider a request by his top commander in Afghanistan for tens of thousands more troops to fight the Taliban. There are already more than 100,000 US-led troops in the country.


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