International pressure was mounting Saturday, as Afghans waited for the
release of a report by a United Nations-backed panel, which could lead
to a runoff vote following the country's disputed presidential election.
Several high-level foreign officials, including French Foreign Minister
Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Senator John Kerry, were in Kabul Saturday
ahead of a long-delayed announcement by the Electoral Complaints
The ECC is investigating allegations of widespread fraud in the August 20 vote.
Preliminary election results gave Afghan President Hamid Karzai
54-percent of the vote. His main challenger, former Foreign Minister
Abdullah Abdullah, has 28 percent. But the ECC's findings could push
Mr. Karzai's lead below 50-percent, forcing a runoff.
Saturday's announcement of the ECC's report was delayed, as officials
were said to be meeting with members of Afghanistan's Independent
Election Commission. Afghan election officials will announce the final
result after double-checking the tally.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Secretary-General Ban
Ki-moon, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke by phone to
President Karzai Friday, as concerns grew over who will lead the
country, and when.
U.S. officials say Senator Kerry's goal was to highlight the need for a
"legitimate outcome" to the election. French officials say Foreign
Minister Kouchner also sought to defuse any tension brought on by the
disputed poll, during his visit.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, was also in
Kabul, and met with both Mr. Karzai and Abdullah this week. He told
reporters late Friday that he urged both candidates to recognize the
importance of the moment and rise to the occasion.
International officials have been urging both President Karzai and Abdullah to consider a power-sharing agreement.
Officials say, if needed, a runoff should be held within two weeks of the definitive announcement of first-round res