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Afghan Presidential Rivals Sign Unity Deal

by VOA News August 08, 2014

Rival Afghan presidential candidates have agreed to end their election dispute and begin working towards a national unity government.

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have been deadlocked on the ongoing audit of eight million votes cast during the presidential run-off, with only a fraction of ballots reviewed for irregularities so far.

After holding a second day of talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Kabul, the candidates on Friday signed an agreement saying that they would cooperate on forming a national unity government after the audit is complete.

At a press briefing alongside Ghani and Kerry Friday, Abdullah said the deal is 'another step forward in the interests of strengthening national unity in the country, strengthening rule of law in the country and bringing hope for a better future to the people of Afghanistan.'

Ghani also reaffirmed his commitment to working with Abdullah towards a national unity government, the details of which were not unveiled Friday.

Kerry said both candidates agreed to abide by the results of the audit, noting 'one of these men is going to be president, but both of these men are going to be critical to the future of Afghanistan, no matter what.'

The secretary of state told reporters, 'the audit is not about winning or losing' but about achieving a credible result that people of Afghanistan deserve.'

The United States wants a new Afghan president in office before the end of this month, in advance of the September 4 NATO summit in Wales where the international community's role in Afghanistan will be a focus.

Secretary Kerry arrived in Kabul on Thursday, his second trip to Afghanistan in a month, to press Abdullah and Ghani for a resolution to their disagreement about the results of a run-off vote that placed Ghani as the frontrunner. Last month, Kerry negotiated with both candidates, who agreed to an audit from the June 14 run-off but have since disagreed on the vote counting process.

Kerry also met with outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Friday, with the Afghan leader repeating his call for final election results to be announced in August.

Preliminary results from the second round of voting showed Ghani ahead of Abdullah, but Abdullah has accused Ghani and Afghan election officials of fraud and refused to accept the result. Abdullah had led after the first round of voting.

At a meeting Thursday with U.N. special representative for Afghanistan Ján Kubiš, Mr. Karzai said the feud over results 'has negatively affected the country's security, stability and economy.'

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