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In New Blow To Election, Afghan President's Main Challenger Pulls Observers From Vote Count

Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah gestures as he speaks during an interview with AFP at the Sapedar Palace in Kabul on November 5.
Afghan presidential candidates Abdullah Abdullah gestures as he speaks during an interview with AFP at the Sapedar Palace in Kabul on November 5.

The leading challenger to incumbent Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan's presidential election more than a month ago has withdrawn his team of observers from the ongoing and acrimonious official recount.

Candidate and longtime Ghani rival Abdullah Abdullah, the current chief executive in a power-sharing deal that cleared the path to Ghani's first five-year term after another disputed election, announced the pullout on November 10.

He said any results from Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission would be illegitimate if his observers are not present for the tally.

The pullout marks a further blow to an already delayed tally in a crucial election for the fragile south Asian country as it tries to quell multiple insurgencies, with the help of U.S. and other foreign troops, and recover from decades of conflict.

Ghani and Abdullah have each claimed victory in the September 28 election and accused the other of vote-rigging.

The latest official estimate for releasing final election results is November 14, but officials had already signaled that the announcement could be delayed further.

The Independent Election Commission's chief, Hawa Alam Nuristani, has called the election a "fate-determining issue" and said officials could not "accept sacrificing transparency for speed."

The release of the results has been hampered by widespread accusations of misconduct during voting and technical problems with transferring ballot papers and data from the biometric voter verification system.

The postponements have already fueled political uncertainty and allegations of fraud.

The results of the last presidential vote, in 2014, were only cleared following mediation by the United States to broker the power-sharing deal between then-candidates Ghani and Abdullah.

If no candidate receives more than half the vote, a runoff should decide the winner.

With support from U.S. and other foreign troops, Afghanistan's central government is fighting threats from the fundamentalist Taliban that controlled the country until 2001 and from gunmen allied with the radical Islamic State (IS) group.

U.S. efforts at a peace deal with the Taliban appeared to fall apart recently after both sides indicated they were close to an agreement that could pave the way to a U.S. troop withdrawal -- potentially ending the longest war in U.S. history -- and eventual talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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