Page last updated at 19:05 GMT, Thursday, 23 July 2009 20:05 UK

TV debate for Afghan contenders

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seen at the opening session of the 15th Non-Aligned Movement summit in Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt, Wednesday, July 15, 2009.
Hamid Karzai said more candidates should have been invited to debate

Afghan television has broadcast a debate between presidential candidates, despite the withdrawal of President Hamid Karzai from the event.

He pulled out of the debate which was aired on the private television channel Tolo after his advisers told him it would be biased against him.

Mr Karzai is one of 41 candidates contesting the election - the first since 2004.

The poll is due to be held amid tight security on 20 August.

'Little effect'

The debate began 20 minutes behind schedule, with Mr Karzai's empty lectern standing in the centre of the stage.

The event went ahead with the president's two main opponents - former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani - laying out their plans.

Although Tolo is the country's most-watched television channel, correspondents say that the overwhelming majority of Afghans do not have access to television and the outcome of the election is much more likely to be determined by deals with regional power brokers.


Mr Ghani, a former top World Bank official, has repeatedly called on the president to hold a debate.

"It is the Afghan public that will suffer another broken promise, not any presidential candidate, if the future plans of each candidate is not made clear standing side-by-side his/her rival," he said on his website this week.

Mr Karzai's campaign team said that he would not take part because the majority of the candidates in the election campaign had not been invited.

His team said it only received its invitation take part only one day before the debate.

Under the country's constitution, the vote should have been held in May, but the deteriorating security situation prompted a postponement until August.

The delay came as little surprise to many observers. Large parts of the south and east are considered too unsafe for a free and fair vote.

Thousands of extra US troops are due to be sent to help improve security.

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