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Karzai rival Abdullah quits Afghan run-off
Sun Nov 1, 2009 10:55pm EST
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By Golnar Motevalli and Sayed Salahuddin
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan presidential challenger Abdullah Abdullah quit an election run-off on Sunday after accusing the government of not meeting his demand for a fair vote, leaving doubts over the legitimacy of the next government.
A weakened Afghan government under President Hamid Karzai would also be a blow for U.S. President Barack Obama as he decides whether to send up to 40,000 more U.S. troops to fight a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.
Karzai's camp ruled out a coalition with Abdullah, dashing hopes that might have been a way out of the impasse.
Daoud Ali Najafi, chief electoral officer of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC), told Reuters Afghanistan's constitution meant the November 7 run-off must go ahead despite Abdullah's decision.
A spokesman for U.N. mission chief Kai Eide voiced doubt about the practicality of carrying on with the run-off vote.
"It's difficult to see how there can be a run-off with only one candidate," said U.N. spokesman Aleem Siddique.
Abdullah's withdrawal, and the IEC's decision to push ahead with the process, presents the possibility of foreign countries now being asked to put more troops at risk to secure an election in which the winner is already known.
Foreign troop deaths have hit record levels this year but the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan would not comment on the dangers of such an exercise.
"We continue to support the Afghan election process. We are not a political entity, we are here to safeguard the election," ISAF spokesman Colonel William Shanks told Reuters.
Abdullah, an eye doctor and Karzai's urbane former foreign minister, appeared to rule out any immediate chance of a power-sharing deal with Karzai in return for withdrawing, but also told his supporters not to boycott the run-off.
His voice faltering and his eyes welling with tears, Abdullah told hundreds of supporters, including white-bearded tribal elders, in a giant tent used for grand assemblies that he had reached the decision "in the interests of the nation".
"As far as I'm concerned, the decision I have reached is not to participate," he later told reporters. "I have strong, strong reservations about the credibility of the process."
Karzai had been favorite to win the run-off after getting more votes in an August 20 first round marred by widespread fraud. His campaign team also said the run-off would go ahead.
"Dr Abdullah's decision has disappointed us," Karzai said in a statement, adding his team would accept whatever rulings are made by the IEC and legal authorities such as the Supreme Court. Continued...
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