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Ethnic tension a factor in Afghan vote: envoy
Sat Aug 22, 2009 1:11am EDT
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By Adam Entous
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his chief rival, who have both claimed election victory, have assured U.S. officials they will respect the outcome despite fears of ethnic unrest, Washington's top envoy said on Saturday.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke met Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Friday, a day after presidential elections went ahead amid sporadic violence and despite Taliban threats to disrupt the vote.
Both camps said on Friday they were on track to win enough votes for an outright majority of more than 50 percent to avoid a potentially destabilizing second round run-off vote in October.
The election is a major test for Karzai after eight years in office, as well as for President Barack Obama's new regional strategy of pouring in thousands of extra troops to defeat the Taliban and its Islamist allies and stabilize Afghanistan.
Asked if he feared the leading candidates would incite their followers if the result was disputed, Holbrooke said "they said they wouldn't."
"They're all putting their own views but they all said they would respect the process," Holbrooke told reporters traveling with him in Kabul. He reiterated that Washington does not have a preferred candidate or favored outcome.
Official preliminary results are not due for two weeks.
Election observers say a second round between Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, and Abdullah, who draws support from Tajiks in the north, risked dividing the country along ethnic lines, and that disagreement over the outcome could lead to civil unrest.
"Everybody understands there is an ethnic issue in the country," Holbrooke said.
"It's a factor, it's not a concern. Is it a factor that gives us heartburn? No, but it is a factor," he said.
In Washington, Obama praised the vote as a move in the right direction. But he warned that Taliban violence may continue as official results are finalized.
"Over the last few days, particularly yesterday, we've seen acts of violence and intimidation by the Taliban, and there ... may be more in the days to come," he said at the White House.
Polls conducted before the election showed Karzai in the lead but not by enough to avoid a run-off.
Afghan and U.S. officials breathed a sigh of relief after the relatively peaceful election, after a dramatic escalation in violence in the weeks leading up to the vote. Continued...
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Ethnic tension a factor in Afghan vote, envoy says
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