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Ghani Sworn In As Afghan President, Rival Holds Parallel Ceremony


FILE: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in for a second term.

But his main political rival, Afghanistan's former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, has held his own inauguration ceremony -- insisting that he won the country's September 2019 presidential election.

Hundreds of guests attended the March 9 inauguration ceremonies of both teams at palaces located next to each other in central Kabul, after last-ditch efforts to mediate an end to the standoff between Ghani and Abdullah failed to resolve the crisis.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and U.S. General Scott Miller, the commander of the U.S.-led international force in Afghanistan, attended Ghani’s inauguration as the sound of rocket fire echoed in the background.

"We have seen bigger attacks. Don't be afraid of just two blasts," Ghani said as he raised his hands to calm the crowd, which included many foreign dignitaries.

The Islamic State extremist group later claimed responsibility for the rocket attack that targeted the inauguration. There were no reports of any injuries.

"Caliphate soldiers targeted the inauguration of the tyrant Ashraf Ghani," by firing 10 rockets near the presidential palace in Kabul, IS said in a statement released on social media outlets.

Hours before the parallel ceremonies, Abdullah wrote on Twitter that "no one should have underestimated our commitment to genuine democracy."

"Invalidation of all fraudulent votes is the way out," Abdullah said.

The dispute stems from the official results of Afghanistan’s bitterly contested September 28 presidential election.

Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) declared on February 19 that Ghani won reelection with just over 50 percent of the vote.

According to the official vote count, Abdullah finished in second place with about 39 percent of the first-round vote.

But Abdullah rejects the official results, saying the election was marred by widespread fraud.

Abdullah has declared himself the winner and has vowed to form his own government.

The standoff has triggered a political crisis that has threatened to spill over into violence and derail a historic peace deal between the United States and the Taliban.

The dispute over the presidency also has left Kabul’s allies and ordinary Afghan deeply worried about the future of the country as it tries to strike a peace deal with Taliban militants. Washington previously asked both sides to delay the ceremonies.

Political analyst Atta Noori told AFP that the dispute would "gravely affect the government's position in the upcoming intra-Afghan talks."

"Unity is the only way [forward] if they want to win on the negotiating table," Noori said.

The Taliban, meanwhile, says talks with Afghanistan’s government scheduled to start of March 10 are unlikely to take place on time because of the two rivals' plans to conduct the parallel ceremonies.

Abdullah had been named as Afghanistan's chief executive officer in 2014 under a U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement that created a fragile national unity government to resolve a political crisis over Abdullah's allegations of widespread fraud in the 2014 presidential election.

Under that deal, Ghani became president within a national unity government while the new office of chief executive officer was created for Abdullah.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Mashaal, AFP, AP, Reuters, and dpa

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