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Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in as Afghanistan’s president after six months of deadlock amid a bitter dispute over electoral fraud and a recount of votes.

Under a US-brokered unity deal Ashraf Ghani takes over the presidency and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah can nominate a figure with prime-ministerial powers.

The Taliban have described the deal as a “US-orchestrated sham” but Ashraf Ghani hailed it as a “big victory”.


Ashraf Ghani took an oath to abide by the constitution at the swearing-in ceremony attended by up to 100 dignitaries.

He has praised the country’s “first democratic transfer of power” and has also spoken warmly of his rival, and now partner in government, Abdullah Abdullah.

Abdullah Abdullah, who takes on the newly created role of chief executive, said the two leaders would work together “for a better future with trust and honesty”.

In a speech as the ceremony began, outgoing President Hamid Karzai, who has been leader since the US-led invasion in 2001, called for people to support the new government.

Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in as Afghanistan's president after six months of deadlock amid a bitter dispute over electoral fraud and a recount of votes

Ashraf Ghani has been sworn in as Afghanistan’s president after six months of deadlock amid a bitter dispute over electoral fraud and a recount of votes

The first thing the government is expected to do is to sign a deal that will see US troops remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year – a move opposed by Hamid Karzai.

Militants attacked a government compound in the eastern province of Paktia on September 29, officials say.

Meanwhile, a roadside bomb exploded on the airport road in Kabul. No one was hurt.

On September 28, the Taliban overran a strategic district in another eastern province, Ghazni, highlighting some of the many challenges facing Ashraf Ghani and his security forces.

Secretary of State John Kerry helped to broker a comprehensive audit of all eight million votes in the election earlier this year after the results were disputed.

The audit was completed this month but the final tallies and the official result have not been made public amid fears over unrest.

Afghanistan’s election commission confined itself to declaring Ashraf Ghani the winner in a statement earlier this month.

Both sides had accused the other of fraud following the election and months of uncertainty have damaged the economy and heightened insecurity.

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Afghanistan’s presidential contenders Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have signed a deal to form a government of national unity at a ceremony in Kabul.

The signing – broadcast live on national TV – comes after months of wrangling following presidential elections in April and June.

Under the deal, Ashraf Ghani becomes president while runner-up Abdullah Abdullah nominates a CEO with powers similar to those of prime minister.

Both sides had accused the other of fraud following the election.

The final result of the bitterly contested poll is due to be announced later.

Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah signed the agreement at a ceremony inside the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul. They then stood and embraced each other.

The power-sharing deal was finally reached after a comprehensive audit of all eight million votes which began in July.

The agreement says the new CEO will be answerable to Ashraf Ghani, although he has lost a battle to be sworn in after the announcement of the election result.

Instead, the two men have signed the national unity agreement before the election result is announced.

The new chief executive – nominated by Abdullah Abdullah – will be side-by-side with the president when he is inaugurated.

Presidential contenders Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have signed a deal to form a government of national unity in Afghanistan

Presidential contenders Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have signed a deal to form a government of national unity in Afghanistan (photo Reuters)

Abdullah Abdullah will be able to appoint senior positions on terms of “parity” with Ashraf Ghani. The agreement says “the two teams will be equally represented at the leadership level”.

However, there will not be a one-for-one handout of jobs further down and that could lead to arguments.

The agreement calls for a spirit of partnership. But after a bitter election campaign and months of wrangling, the stability of this government cannot be guaranteed, he adds.

A spokesman for Ashraf Ghani said that there was no longer any dispute between the two sides.

“Both camps have agreed 100% on everything and we’ll sign the deal tomorrow,” Faizullah Zaki told Reuters on Saturday, September 20.

The audit of ballots was part of a deal brokered in July by Secretary of State John Kerry to try to avert a descent into violence.

Both candidates pledged to accept the audit results and form a unity government.

One of the new president’s first tasks is widely expected to be signing a bilateral security agreement with the US.

The deal will allow a small force of soldiers to remain beyond 2014 to train Afghan security forces.

Incumbent President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the security agreement, which is linked to the continuation of aid needed to pay Afghan civil servants, teachers and soldiers.

Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah have both promised to sign the agreement.

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Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani has called for an “extensive audit” of votes.

Ashraf Ghani made the appeal before meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry, who arrived in Kabul to try to resolve a growing political crisis.

John Kerry is also meeting Ashraf Ghani’s rival Abdullah Abdullah.

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round, but both candidates allege fraud.

The audit would help ensure the “integrity and the legitimacy that the people of Afghanistan and the world will believe in,” Ashraf Ghani said.

The announcement was welcomed by John Kerry, who arrived in Afghanistan on Friday in a hastily arranged visit.

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election

Ashraf Ghani came out ahead in preliminary results from the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential election (photo CNN)

“No one is declaring victory at this time. The results have yet to be finalized and so those questions have to be resolved and I’m very appreciative that Dr. Ghani respects that” he said.

Current President Hamid Karzai, who took power after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban, is stepping down after more than 10 years.

The US has been concerned at reports that Abdullah Abdullah, who preliminary results suggest lost the election, is planning a “parallel government”.

Results announced by Afghanistan’s election officials give Ashraf Ghani 56.44% of votes in the June 14 run-off, with Abdullah Abdullah gaining 43.45%.

The results were markedly different from those achieved in the first round of voting, held in April.

In that round, Abdullah Abdullah fell just short of an outright majority, with 44.9%, with Ashraf Ghani second at 31.5%.

Votes are already being re-checked at more than 7,000 polling stations – nearly a third of the total number.

Correspondents say recounts could significantly alter the final result, due on July 22.

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan has warned it will be “premature” for either side to claim victory.

There are also concerns about a further deterioration in the security situation.

Taliban militants have been testing the limits of the Afghan army in recent weeks, with a major offensive in the southern province of Helmand.

The withdrawal of foreign troops by the end of this year will be the litmus test of whether more than a decade of training and investment in building up Afghanistan’s own security forces has paid off, correspondents say.

President Barack Obama has said the US remained committed to Afghanistan provided the incoming president signed a security agreement.

Both Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have said they are committed to signing the deal with the US that would allow a small force to stay on.

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Abdullah Abdullah has claimed victory in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential race, despite results giving a lead to his rival, Ashraf Ghani.

Addressing supporters in Kabul, Abdullah Abdullah repeated claims that the election process was marred by fraud.

US Secretary of State John Kerry had earlier warned against a power grab, amid reports that Dr. Abdullah Abdullah was planning a “parallel government”.

Meanwhile, a bomb near Kabul has killed 16 people, including four NATO troops.

Ten civilians and two police officers were also reportedly killed in the attack on a clinic near Bagram, home to the largest US base in the country.

Abdullah Abdullah has claimed victory in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential race, despite results giving a lead to his rival, Ashraf Ghani

Abdullah Abdullah has claimed victory in the second round of Afghanistan’s presidential race, despite results giving a lead to his rival, Ashraf Ghani (photo Reuters)

Abdullah Abdullah told the gathering in Kabul that he would never “accept a fraudulent government”.

“We are the winners of this round of elections, without any doubt,” he said, to cheers from the crowd.

However, Abdullah Abdullah stopped short of declaring a parallel government as his supporters had earlier suggested he might. Instead, he called for a unified country.

“We don’t want civil war, we don’t want a crisis,” he said.

“We want stability, national unity, not division.”

Preliminary results announced on Monday gave Ashraf Ghani 56.44% of votes in the June 14 run-off.

Abdullah Abdullah, who fell just short of an outright majority in the first round, had 43.56%.

Both of them have alleged fraud in the election. Votes are being re-checked at nearly a third of polling stations – more than 7,000.

Correspondents say recounts could significantly alter the final result, due on July 22.

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Ashraf Ghani is leading the Afghan presidential race, according to preliminary results.

The former finance minister won 56.44% of votes cast in the June 14 second round, the Afghan election commission said.

Ashraf Ghani is leading the Afghan presidential race after preliminary results

Ashraf Ghani is leading the Afghan presidential race after preliminary results

Ashraf Ghani’s opponent Abdullah Abdullah had 43.56%, the commission said.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah led after the first round and has alleged widespread fraud in the run-off. Votes are being re-checked at thousands of polling stations.

The vote comes during a critical year for Afghanistan. Most foreign troops are due to withdraw by the end of 2014.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election which was also marred by claims of mass fraud.

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Senior Afghan election official Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail at the centre of fraud claims in the presidential run-off vote has resigned.

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail said he was stepping down “for the sake of national unity”, denying allegations of ballot box-stuffing earlier this month.

His resignation comes after audio tapes were released allegedly revealing that Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail was trying to influence the outcome of the vote.

They were published by the camp of one of the candidates – Abdullah Abdullah.

However, Abdullah Abdullah’s rival Ashraf Ghani has also made allegations of fraud.

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail’s resignation comes after audio tapes were released allegedly revealing that he was trying to influence the outcome of the vote

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail’s resignation comes after audio tapes were released allegedly revealing that he was trying to influence the outcome of the vote

The official results of the June 14 run-off are yet to be published.

In a dramatic turn of events on Monday, Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail tendered his resignation on national television.

He vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying he had been the victim of a plot.

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail also described the tapes as “fake” and blamed the country’s security services for interfering in the election.

In an apparent reference to ballot box-stuffing, the tapes appear to show Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail urging a colleague to “bring the sheep stuffed and not empty”.

The reference to sheep and goats – ballot boxes and people or votes – is made several times during the recorded exchanges.

Reacting to the latest developments, Abdullah Abdullah said the resignation of Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail had opened the door for discussions with Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.

Abdullah Abdullah also said his recent decision to stop co-operating with the election authorities had not been intended to disrupt the process, but to prevent a fraudulent election result and to protect people’s votes.

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Explosive audio tapes released in Afghanistan allegedly reveal a senior election official directing that ballot boxes be stuffed in the crucial presidential run-off.

The recordings, which cannot be independently verified, are believed to have come from the security services.

They have been placed in the public domain by the Abdullah Abdullah camp who refuse to disclose their source.

Fraud allegations have been made by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and by his rival Ashraf Ghani.

The audio tapes appear to reveal a partisan senior election official working in Dr. Ashraf Ghani’s interest.

However, the former World Bank executive’s team say secret recordings without a court order are illegal and must be investigated.

Audio tapes released in Afghanistan allegedly reveal a senior election official directing that ballot boxes be stuffed in the crucial presidential run-off

Audio tapes released in Afghanistan allegedly reveal a senior election official directing that ballot boxes be stuffed in the crucial presidential run-off

The audio tapes appear to capture conversations between a senior election official, Zia Ul-Haq Amarkhail, and colleagues in at least four other provinces.

In an apparent reference to ballot box stuffing, the tapes appear to show Zia Ul-Haq Amarkhail urging a colleague to “bring the sheep stuffed and not empty”. The reference to sheep and goats – ballot boxes and people or votes – is made several times during the recorded exchanges.

In a separate conversation, the senior official also apparently deals with concerns from a colleague in one of the north-western provinces, who warns that “others make the majority in our office”.

Zia Ul-Haq Amarkhail apparently responds to him with the words “why don’t you get rid of them, take a stick and kick them all out” and goes on to suggest new officials are recruited from ethnic groups, assumed to back Ashraf Ghani.

Many awkward questions still surround the release of tapes, copies of which have now been handed to the presidency and the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

The UN, which is being urged by Abdullah Abdullah to step in and help arbitrate disputes, has also been made aware of their existence.

In a statement, the UN said the Afghan election authorities should consider the “validity, weight and implications” of the tapes and “take action in line with the principles of accountability”.

It wants the Afghans to sort out their own problems but do so in a “transparent” manner.

For the past week the IEC has been under pressure to suspend Zia Ul-Haq Amarkhail pending an investigation.

An altercation between him and a senior police official on election day, after the police chief had become suspicious of his movements, was aired on Afghan TV.

Since then the cries for him to be relieved of his duties have grown louder, but so far the election body has resisted taking any action.

The election authorities simply stated that his “privacy” was protected by the constitution when asked for a comment about the tapes.

Many questions arise from these audio recordings. How were they obtained, why are they being released now and will they be admissible as “evidence” of alleged fraud?

The Abdullah Abdullah camp has tossed this explosive material into the public domain but the presidential hopeful himself has been away from the media spotlight – in sharp contrast to his public appearances earlier this week.

He has suspended his co-operation with the election authorities, a position the UN has described as “regrettable” and says he will not recognize any result they release.

More demonstrators from Abdullah Abdullah’s camp have been out on the streets of Kabul on Sunday.

Many say they are there to “protect their vote” from fraud.

Both sides have lodged complaints about the conduct of these elections and for Abdullah Abdullah, who felt he was robbed of the presidency back in 2009, there is a sense that history is repeating itself.

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud.

Ballot boxes had been stuffed and the whole system was working to benefit his rival Ashraf Ghani, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said.

He said he had lost trust in election officials, adding: “We have asked our monitors to leave their offices.”

A run-off vote to choose who replaces Hamid Karzai was held on Saturday. Final results are due in July.

Abdullah Abdullah won most votes in the first round in April, but did not secure an outright majority.

There was no immediate comment from Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank economist.

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud

Afghanistan’s presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah has demanded an immediate halt to vote-counting over allegations of widespread fraud

Hamid Karzai, who has served two terms as Afghanistan’s first and only president since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, is obliged by law to stand down after the latest election, which would be the country’s first peaceful transfer of power.

He is expected to hand over to his successor in August.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah said that a number of his observers had been beaten up, detained and only released on Tuesday.

He accused President Hamid Karzai of not being neutral and said important concerns he had raised over the election had been ignored.

Abdullah Abdullah also complained that there had been no clarification over what he had called inflated turnout figures – and no explanation for the sacking of several thousand election workers after the first round.

He added that he had also demanded that a senior member of the Independent Election Commission should be suspended, but this had not happened.

“The counting process should stop immediately and if that continues, it will have no legitimacy,” Dr. Abdullah Abdullah told reporters.

Ballot boxes have yet to reach Kabul for votes to be counted but the former foreign minister said preliminary evidence gathered by his team showed widespread fraud.

According to initial reports received by his staff, Ashraf Ghani is leading by nearly a million votes after Saturday’s run-off, Reuters news agency reported.

Dr. Abdullah Abdullah pulled out of Afghanistan’s 2009 presidential election which was also marred by claims of mass fraud.

UN and US officials have been urging both contenders in this year’s race to give officials time to count votes and look into possible malpractice.

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Voters in Afghanistan are deciding who will succeed President Hamid Karzai after run-off polls.

The choice was between former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani.

The head of the election commission said turnout was good and most polling stations had opened but admitted some places had run out of ballot papers.

The Taliban threatened to target voting, and there are concerns that fraud could produce a disputed result.

Leading candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have campaigned relentlessly ahead of Afghanistan presidential election’s second round

Leading candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani have campaigned relentlessly ahead of Afghanistan presidential election’s second round

It should be the first time that power in Afghanistan has been democratically transferred.

As most foreign soldiers prepare to withdraw by the end of this year, whoever becomes the new leader faces multiple challenges.

Taliban insurgents remain active, the economy is weak, corruption is endemic and the rule of law goes largely unenforced.

About 12 million Afghans are eligible to vote. Polls closed at 16:00 local time but officials said those in line at that time could still vote.

The election commission said 6,204 polling centres had opened, but about 160 remained closed because of security threats.

Abdullah Abdullah won 45% of the first-round vote, with Ashraf Ghani securing 31.6% – neither achieved the 50% needed to avoid a second round.

Both sides have faced multiple claims of fraud.

Correspondents say that a seamless transfer of power would be a significant achievement for Afghanistan and a vindication of international efforts to establish a functioning democracy after the abuses of the Taliban era.

But Afghanistan’s mountainous and remote terrain, coupled with the dilapidated condition of many of its roads, mean that holding a country-wide election is a major challenge. Thousands of donkeys will be deployed to carry ballot boxes to some of the more inaccessible villages.

The preliminary result is expected on July 2 and the final result on July 22.

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Afghanistan presidential election preliminary results show the poll will go to a second round, after no candidate reached the 50% needed for an outright win.

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah won most votes with 44.9%. Former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani came second with 31.5%.

They are now expected to face a run-off vote on May 28.

Final official results are due to be announced on May 14 after a period for adjudication of complaints.

Full preliminary results were due two days ago.

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are now expected to face a run-off vote on May 28

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani are now expected to face a run-off vote on May 28 (photo Reuters)

The delay has fuelled allegations on all sides that ballot boxes were stuffed and the count was rigged, our correspondent says.

Power-sharing scotched

Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani could now form a power-sharing deal, or choose to go to a second round.

Before the results were announced, both men promised to fight in a run-off.

“We have not talked or negotiated with anyone about forming a coalition government,” Abdullah Abdullah told reporters on Thursday.

Millions of Afghans defied Taliban threats to take part in the election.

Turnout was double that of the previous presidential election in 2009, despite a number of attacks in the run-up and bad weather on polling day.

Afghanistan’s current President Hamid Karzai was constitutionally barred from standing for a third term.

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Afghanistan’s former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is slightly ahead of Ashraf Ghani in the country’s presidential election, partial results have shown.

With about 500,000 votes in 26 provinces counted, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah has 41.9% with Ashraf Ghani on 37.6%.

Some seven million votes were cast in total across Afghanistan’s 34 provinces in the April 5 poll.

Full preliminary results are due by April 24. A runoff will take place in May if no candidate gets a majority.

The Independent Election Commission has warned that the front-runner could easily change as counting continues in the coming days.

Afghanistan’s former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is slightly ahead of Ashraf Ghani in the country's presidential election

Afghanistan’s former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah is slightly ahead of Ashraf Ghani in the country’s presidential election

“Maybe today one candidate looks strong. Tomorrow, maybe another will pull ahead,” commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said.

The results will now emerge every day, and some ballot boxes have yet to arrive in Kabul from remote places travelling by donkey.

Abdullah Abdullah’s team has exhibited quiet confidence since the election.

The partial results gave another main contender and former Foreign Minister, Zalmai Rassoul, who is believed to be President Hamid Karzai’s preferred successor, 9.8% of the vote.

Possible electoral fraud has been a concern, but the election body responsible for dealing with complaints says it will be weeks before it rules on the issue.

There were allegations of large-scale fraud when Hamid Karzai was re-elected in 2009 – Dr. Abdullah Abdullah came second in that poll.

The Election Complaints Commission said there appeared to have been less fraud in this election.

“We have received 1,892 complaints with evidence, (including) 1,382 through phone,” spokesman Nader Mohseni said on Sunday.

He said 870 fell into the most serious category.

There were also fears that Taliban violence could disrupt the election, but millions turned out despite threats and several high-profile attacks in the run-up to election day.

The vote heralds the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan.

The next president will have to contend with a range of difficult issues, including continuing Taliban violence and how Afghanistan adapts after the withdrawal of foreign combat forces this year.

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