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Afghanistan braces for possible election run-off
Sat Oct 17, 2009 9:25am EDT
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By Maria Golovnina
KABUL (Reuters) - Several international political figures have phoned President Hamid Karzai, his office said on Saturday, in what appeared to be an intense diplomatic offensive to end a row over Afghanistan's disputed presidential election.
The phone calls, including from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, came just before the U.N.-backed Electoral Complaints Commission was due to announce the findings of its investigation into allegations of fraud in the August 20 ballot.
The allegations have left Afghanistan in a state of political uncertainty at a time when Washington is deciding whether to send more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban.
There were widespread suggestions in Kabul that enough votes would be eliminated from Karzai's tally to trigger a run-off round against former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Observers said pressure was mounting on Karzai to either agree to face Abdullah in a second round or form a power-sharing government to put an end to the crisis.
"The second round is definitely on the radar screen right now," said an official close to the process. "This is why there are delays. There are some tense negotiations going on."
A host of high-level foreign visitors arrived in Kabul ahead of the announcement, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Senator John Kerry, who is also chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, was also in Kabul on a private visit, the U.S. embassy said.
Karzai spoke by phone to Clinton, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Karzai's office said.
A statement by the French Foreign Ministry said Kouchner's visit was part of efforts to defuse "the tension created by the repeated delays in announcing the election results."
A U.S. diplomat said Kerry's goal was to "highlight the need for a legitimate outcome in this election."
RECOMMENDATIONS ON FRAUD, COMPLAINTS
The protracted election process and fraud allegations have sparked tension between Karzai and his Western backers.
Clinton told CNN that she thought "the likelihood of him (Karzai) winning a second round is probably pretty high."
Karzai won 54.6 percent of the vote, according to preliminary figures. More than 250,000 votes would have to be thrown out from his tally for it to fall below 50 percent. Continued...
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