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Afghan Political Rivals Prepare To Declare Themselves President In Parallel Ceremonies


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (file photo)

Both Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, were preparing to declare themselves president in parallel ceremonies in Kabul slated for March 9.

The sides had agreed to postpone their swearing-in ceremonies until 1 p.m. Kabul time as Ghani and Abdullah held talks to negotiate an end to their standoff.

The dispute stems from the results of Afghanistan’s bitterly disputed September 28 presidential election. Election authorities in February declared Ghani the winner but Abdullah rejected the result, declared himself the winner, and vowed to form his own government.

The election confusion 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.

Efforts to defuse the situation have failed so far, with U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad holding marathon talks in Kabul with both sides until the early hours of March 9.

Spokesmen from both camps said efforts were still ongoing to find a resolution.

Television footage showed guests arriving at both ceremonies.

The dispute over the presidency has left Kabul’s allies and ordinary Afghans 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.

On February 19, after months of delay, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission announced that Ghani had been reelected with just over 50 percent of the first-round vote.

Afghan election officials said Abdullah finished in second place with just over 39 percent of the vote.

But Abdullah, alleging widespread fraud during the vote count, insists that he won the election and has vowed to form his own government.

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," he said.

The Taliban, meanwhile, had earlier said talks scheduled this week with Afghanistan’s government are unlikely to take place on time because of the two rivals' plans to conduct the parallel ceremonies.

Widespread allegations of fraud in Afghanistan's 2014 presidential election led to a political crisis between the top candidates, also Ghani and Abdullah.

That crisis was resolved by a U.S.-brokered power-sharing agreement that created a fragile national unity government.

Under that deal, Ghani became president while a 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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