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The Aug. 20 vote was marred by charges of ballot-stuffing and voter coercion, mostly to Karzai's benefit. Both he and top challenger Abdullah Abdullah say the results of the fraud probe are in their favor. They deny they are negotiating the formation of a coalition government to avert would could prove a divisive and costly second round of voting.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the candidates Friday as concerns grow over who will lead the country, and when. The political crisis, and rising U.S. casualties in the war against insurgents, have prompted the Obama administration to review its entire Afghanistan war strategy.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, U.S. Democratic Sen. John Kerry and veteran U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad were in Kabul on Saturday. Khalilzad held talks with both candidates this week and said he pressed them to reach a solution quickly, noting that U.S. support was not a guarantee if Afghanistan is seen as a hopeless case.
"I urged them to recognize the gravity of the circumstances and to rise to the occasion," Khalilzad said late Friday.
Preliminary election results had put Karzai in the lead with 54.6 percent of the vote, compared to about 28 percent for Abdullah. The results from the fraud investigation could eliminate enough Karzai votes to push him below the 50 percent threshold to force a second round.
Nellika Little, a spokeswoman for the Electoral Complaints Commission, said the panel hoped to release its results later Saturday. Results have already been delayed multiple times.
International diplomats have been urging Karzai and Abdullah to consider a power-sharing arrangement to avoid a runoff that would have to be held within the next few weeks, according to a Western official familiar with the talks.
Karzai is likely to win a second round, but holding a runoff would be a challenge because of security concerns and winter snows that could block northern roads and prevent voters from reaching polling stations.
Mohamed Mohin Murstal, a parliament member who is also part of Karzai's campaign, said international pressure centered on creating a unity government.
"They want us to establish a strong government, a coalition government," Murstal said. "Karzai has agreed that after the announcement of the results, he will give the opportunity for all political personalities to be involved in government - but not before."
A spokesman for Karzai's campaign, Waheed Omar, confirmed the proposals on a power-sharing government, but said Karzai is "not going to compromise the results of the elections into any sort of political deal."
Abdullah's campaign manager, Satar Murad, said no deals were on the table.
"What's important for us at this moment, what we are focused on, is the result of the election," Murad said. "We're not going to respond until we have that."
The results due Saturday from electoral fraud investigation may not resolve the dispute. Karzai's camp is adamant he won the first round outright. Abdullah's camp says a runoff is imminent. And Zekria Barakzai, an official on the Independent Election Commission, said his panel could reject some of the fraud investigation results.
Afghan electoral law establishes the U.N.-backed fraud panel as the final arbiter on fraud complaints, and the election commission will use those results to decide whether there will be a runoff.
Barakzai said election commission officials have done their own analysis of the data from an audit and recount of 3,377 polling stations, and will compare their decisions with those issued by the fraud panel before accepting its order.
Barakzai said the election officials - who are appointed by Karzai - have not been under pressure by the administration concerning results.
The political crisis and rising U.S. casualties have prompted the Obama administration to reassesses its war strategy, including proposals to send thousands more troops here or shift the focus to missile strikes and special operations raids against al-Qaida figures in Pakistan. Insurgent violence has increased across Afghanistan this year, coinciding with a boost in U.S. military strength - now at more than 65,000.
Obama is not expected to decide on a new strategy until the Afghans determine whether they must hold the runoff
This program aired on October 17, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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