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Future of Afghan election unclear

Abdullah Abdullah: It was a painful decision

Efforts are under way to resolve confusion over whether the second round of Afghanistan's presidential election will go ahead on Saturday.

The planned run-off was thrown into doubt after opposition leader Abdullah Abdullah withdrew from the contest.

The only remaining candidate, President Hamid Karzai, says the Afghan election commission should decide the issue.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she respected Mr Abdullah's choice and urged him to still work for peace.

The US would continue to support both the people of Afghanistan and their next president, Mrs Clinton said.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown meanwhile said Mr Abdullah had pulled out of the election "in the interests of national unity" and that President Karzai now wanted to issue a "unity manifesto".

Both countries had previously supported a run-off, following the widespread fraud that marred the first round in August.

ANALYSIS
Andrew North
BBC's Andrew North, in Kabul

It is almost certain the second round vote planned for 7 November won't happen.

Instead, pressure is mounting on the Afghan election commission to call it off and for the Supreme Court to issue a ruling declaring President Karzai the winner.

Despite calls by some of his supporters for the vote to go ahead, his campaign has now said it will respect any decision by the commission and other legal institutions.

Much of the pressure has been coming from foreign diplomats - the same diplomats in many cases who insisted on a second round to try to restore some legitimacy to the process because of the widespread fraud first time round.

But the United Nations as well as the British, American and other governments with troops here are not prepared to risk their lives for a one-man race.

It will be a deeply unsatisfactory end to the process but at the moment this is seen as the best option. Then will come the decisions on a new Afghan government.

However the BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says they are now against it, given the danger to foreign and Afghan troops who would have to oversee the poll amid Taliban attempts to disrupt it.

Our correspondent says efforts are now under way to find a legal means of bringing things to an end, and this could see the much-criticised election commission halting the run-off, and then the country's supreme court ruling that President Karzai has won.

Then, he adds, will come the difficult process of forming a new Afghan government.

Mr Abdullah told the BBC he had made the decision "in the best interests of the country".

Earlier, he had told supporters his demands for ensuring a fraud-free election had not been met.

But he stopped short of calling for a boycott of the run-off vote, due to be held next Saturday.

Mr Karzai had rejected Mr Abdullah's demand that election officials who presided over the first round should be dismissed.

In a BBC interview, Mr Abdullah said he decided to pull out as "I felt that it might not help the democratic process, it might not restore the faith of the people in [the] democratic process.

"It was a hard decision and a painful decision for me, but I did it... I thought that it would be in the best interests of the country if I decide not to participate."

He added that the decision that a run-off should be held had, in itself, "helped restore the faith of the people in the process" after concerns over the conduct of the first round of voting.

'National unity'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was up to Afghan officials to decide the next step in the election process.

"It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan constitution," Mrs Clinton said in a statement.

"We will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future."

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She also urged Mr Abdullah to "stay engaged" and work for peace in Afghanistan.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: "Dr Abdullah has pulled out of the election in the interests of national unity."

He added that he had told Mr Karzai it was now imperative that he formed an "inclusive administration" that could tackle corruption and build up popular local government.

Hundreds of thousands of votes were discounted from August's first round of voting, which was marred by widespread allegations of fraud.

An investigation by the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) led to Mr Karzai's share of the vote dropping to 49.67% - below the crucial 50% plus one vote threshold needed to avoid a second round.

Mr Abdullah was adjudged in the end to have won about 31% of valid votes cast.

Mr Abdullah - a Tajik-Pashtun former eye surgeon - served as foreign minister in the short-lived government headed by the Northern Alliance.

He continued as "foreign minister in exile" throughout the years of Taliban rule, which ended in 2001.

He resumed the role in the government of President Karzai after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, before leaving it five years later.



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