Kerry, others focus on audit to resolve disputed Afghan vote

KABUL – US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday Afghanistan's transition to a self-reliant state hung in the balance after a contested presidential election and urged Afghan officials to focus on auditing the vote count to underpin its legitimacy.

Kerry arrived in the Afghan capital in the early hours of Friday in a hastily arranged visit for talks with the two presidential contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, as well as incumbent Hamid Karzai and other senior officials. Preliminary results from a June 14 run-off round put Ghani, a former World Bank official, in the lead with 56.4 percent of the vote, almost one million votes ahead of Abdullah.

Abdullah rejected the result, calling it a coup against the people and dismissing the vote as invalid because of widespread fraud. His aides have threatened to set up an alternative administration. Kerry rushed to Kabul from meetings in Beijing to try to mediate between the camps and guard against any attempt at a power grab. "The election legitimacy hangs in the balance, the future potential of the transition hangs in the balance, so we have a lot to do," Kerry said as he began his first meeting of the day with UN special envoy to Afghanistan Jan Kubis.

"Our hopes are that there is a road that can be found that will provide that capacity for the questions to be answered, for people's doubts to be satisfied, and hopefully for a future to be defined. But I can't tell you that that's going to be an automatic at this point." US officials Kerry would urge both contenders to agree on a review of all reasonable allegations of fraud, which would entail additional audits of the vote count.

Kerry was also due to meet Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Omar Daudzai, a man tipped as head of a possible interim government - a last-resort scenario possible if the current deadlock is not resolved promptly.

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Aaj Kal