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Kerry holds all-night talks with Afghan presidential rivals

© AFP | John Kerry (right) meets outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Video by Vikram SINGH

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-07-12

US Secretary of State John Kerry was to hold a second day of talks with Afghanistan's feuding presidential hopefuls on Saturday, seeking a deal to "clean up the tally" after disputed elections.

Kerry held talks late into the night on Friday in an effort to resolve Afghanistan's disputed presidential election, warning the two candidates that the country's transition to a self-reliant state hung in the balance unless the credibility of the vote was restored.

Despite back-to-back meetings, US diplomats said an accord was not yet on the table.

Kerry rushed to Kabul on Friday in a hastily arranged visit for talks with the two presidential contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, as well as incumbent President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials.

US officials said Kerry would hold a second round of talks on Saturday with all sides, starting with Abdullah, to weigh several ideas.

Preliminary results from a June 14 runoff vote put Ghani, a former World Bank official, in the lead, but Abdullah rejected the result, calling it a "coup" against the people and his aides have threatened to set up an alternative administration.

"Election legitimacy in the balance"

"The election legitimacy hangs in the balance, the future potential of the transition hangs in the balance, so we have a lot to do," Kerry said before his meetings with Jan Kubis, the United Nations' special envoy to Afghanistan.

Under a proposal put forward by the UN, the country's elections commission would audit ballot boxes from just over 8,000 polling stations where suspicions of ballot-stuffing have been raised.

While Ghani's campaign has embraced the UN plan, Abdullah's team remains skeptica, arguing the proposals to review some 35 percent of all votes do not address all their concerns.

On Friday, Kerry stressed that results released on Monday showing Ghani in the lead with some 56 percent of the vote were only "preliminary".

"They are neither authoritative nor final, and no-one should be stating a victory at this point in time," Kerry said.

Kerry was focusing on two tracks, a senior US administration official told AFP.

"One is cleaning up the tally, so to speak, to the extent possible so that the process is more credible. But two, creating a dialogue where the Afghans can have the conversation" on a path forward, the official said.

Ethnic divide

Abdullah's rejection of the outcome has set the stage for a possible bloody standoff between ethnic groups or even secession of parts of the fragile country, which is already deeply divided along tribal lines.

Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, draws his support from the Tajik minority in the north of the country. Ghani has strong support from Pashtun tribes in the south and east.

US-based analyst Anthony Cordesman on Afghan election

Ghani, speaking earlier, said he favoured a comprehensive audit. "Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in," he said. "Therefore, we believe in the most intensive and extensive audit possible to restore faith."

Abdullah, for his part, said after meeting Kerry: "At a very critical time, you have proved your commitment to Afghanistan, to saving Afghanistan and saving the democratic process here."

US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Reuters that an agreement on a broad review of the votes would be an initial step to enable the candidates to talk through their differences.

"Secretary Kerry's goal is to help the parties find a way forward that ensures that the next president of Afghanistan has a credible mandate to lead a unified Afghanistan," she said.

The United States believes the results of the final tally in the second round should not be released until the audits have been completed.

Kerry has warned that any effort to resolve the dispute through violence or any "extra-constitutional means," would cause the United States to withdraw assistance to Afghanistan.

The United States is in the process of withdrawing its forces from the country after 12 years of fighting Taliban insurgents, but remains the country's biggest foreign donor, helping to fund the operations of the Afghan government.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, Reuters)

Date created : 2014-07-12

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