Afghan candidates in last minute talks to defuse election crisis

Afghan candidates in last minute talks to defuse election crisis
Afghan Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah

KABUL, July 7 - Rival Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are holding last-minute talks to try to defuse a standoff over the outcome of a troubled election, their spokespeople said on Monday.

Afghanistan is due to announce preliminary results of the run-off vote at 2 p.m. (0930 GMT). Official final results are due on July 22.

Both rounds of the vote have been plagued by accusations of mass fraud, and the refusal by either candidate to accept the outcome could plunge the country into a dangerous crisis and split it along ethnic lines.

Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban fighter, and Ashraf Ghani, an ex-World Bank official, have locked horns over the election, alleging cheating and both have effectively declared victory in the contest to succeed Hamid Karzai.

The protracted deadlock over the June 14 second round run-off vote has quashed hopes for a trouble-free transition of power in Afghanistan, a headache for the West as most US-led forces continue to withdraw from the country this year.

On Monday, both camps said they were holding renewed discussions to find ways to defuse the crisis, possibly about how many additional polling stations need to be audited in order to satisfy both candidates that the vote was free of fraud. "Our meetings continued until midnight and there were some improvements but we haven't reached final agreement," said Mujibul Rahman Rahimi, a spokesman for Abdullah, adding that the ball was now in Ghani's court.

Azita Rafhat, a spokeswoman for Ghani's camp, said they would soon announce their position on the talks.

Abdullah, who has a Pashtun father and a Tajik mother, draws much of his support from the Tajik minority in northern Afghanistan. Ghani, a former World Bank economist, has strong support from Pashtun tribes in the south and east of the country.

As their standoff intensified in past weeks, Afghanistan has become awash with talk about a broader rift along ethnic lines or even violence unless they agree to accept the outcome of the vote or come to a compromise arrangement.

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