Abdullah pulls out of Afghan run-off
Kabul, November 1, 2009
Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah said on Sunday he had withdrawn from an election run-off because demands he made for a fair vote had not been met by the government and election officials.
"I will not take part in the election ... I have not taken this decision easily," Abdullah told supporters in Kabul, adding he had not told anyone to boycott the November 7 ballot.
Pressure had been growing on Abdullah to pull out of the contest against President Hamid Karzai, seen by analysts as favourite to win the run-off after getting the most votes in the fraud-marred first round on August 20.
Afghanistan has been racked by weeks of political uncertainty, with security also a major concern after a resurgent Taliban vowed to disrupt the presidential run-off.
With Afghanistan's political future hanging in the balance, US President Barack Obama is also weighing whether to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Obama met his top military leaders on Friday as part of a strategic review.
A deadline Abdullah had given Karzai to sack Afghanistan's top election official to avoid a repeat of the tainted first round passed without action on Saturday.
Abdullah was speaking in Kabul to tribal elders gathered in a huge tent in the west of the capital. Western diplomats had suggested it was no longer a question of whether he would pull out but the manner in which he did it.
"Abdullah has realised how painful a second round will be for the country. The issue for Abdullah now is how does he withdraw: by saving face gracefully or boycotting the run-off," one Western official in Kabul, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.
Analysts and diplomats believe withdrawing from the contest, perhaps as part of a power-sharing deal in return for a top government post in Karzai's next government, would spare the country further political pain and insurgent violence.
While behind-the-scenes diplomatic moves to resolve the deadlock intensified over the past week, one Western diplomatic source said talks between Karzai and his former foreign minister Abdullah had broken down.
The run-off was triggered when a UN-led investigation found widespread fraud, mainly in favour of Karzai, had been committed during the first round. - Reuters