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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Abdullah Will Quit Afghan Election, Officials Say

Abdullah plans runoff boycott to delay Afghan vote

KABUL — President Hamid Karzai's challenger plans to call for a boycott of next weekend's runoff election in an attempt to force the vote's postponement until spring, his campaign manager said – a move that would dim U.S. hopes for a stable Afghan government for months.

Karzai rejected Abdullah Abdullah's conditions for next Saturday's vote, including removing top election officials whom the challenger accused of involvement in cheating in the first-round balloting in August.

Abdullah has called a press conference for 10 a.m. Sunday to announce his final decision after Afghans and Westerners close to the challenger said he would withdraw. His campaign manager Satar Murad said the candidate might still change his mind, but that "as of now" he planned to call for a boycott.

A clouded electoral picture would further complicate the Obama administration's efforts to decide whether to send tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.

The White House has been waiting for a new government in Kabul to announce a decision, but the war has intensified in the meantime. October was the deadliest month of the war for U.S. forces with at least 57 American deaths.

Western officials hoped that Abdullah would make a gracious exit for the good of the country rather than denounce Karzai for fraud, a move that could sharpen tensions at a time the United States and its allies are seeking unity against the Taliban.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton downplayed the prospect of an Abdullah withdrawal, saying it would not undermine the legitimacy of the election.


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