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Rival Teams Meeting Ahead Of Poll Results Release

Representatives of Afghanistan's two rival presidential candidates are meeting ahead of the expected release of initial results from the country's runoff election.

(Eds: Election officials say the results are expected to be released on July 7)

Reuters quotes spokespeople for candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani as saying their representatives are discussing how to defuse tensions over the disputed vote count.

Both candidates accuse each other of trying to manipulate the results of the June 14 balloting.

Abdullah has called the vote count unfair and demanded further checking.

But Ghani -- whose campaign claims he is ahead by 1 million votes -- says the declaration of results must not be further delayed.

U.S. Senator Carl Levin -- on a visit to Kabul -- told reporters on July 6 that the preliminary result would likely be followed by an audit of suspicious votes.

In response to allegations of mass fraud, the Independent Election Commission has been recounting votes from 1,930 polling stations.

Analysts say the delay in announcing the results was partly to give the two rivals time to reach a compromise.

However, Ghani has ruled out a coalition with Abdullah.

"Our commitment is to defend national interests, not personal interests," Ghani said on July 5.

The deepening rift between the rivals has sparked speculation of a wider split along ethnic lines in Afghanistan.

Ghani, a former World Bank economist, attracts support from Pashtuns in the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks in the north -- echoing the ethnic divisions of the civil war in the 1990s.

On July 6, the Afghan government rejected a proposal to ban Facebook, amid fears social media were being used to stoke ethnic hatred as the political impasse continues.

Adding to an already tense situation, Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the election process.

On July 5, militants set fire to 200 oil tankers supplying fuel to NATO forces near Kabul.

Washington has been hoping for a swift transfer of power in order to sign a security pact allowing some U.S. forces to stay in the country beyond 2014.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP