France FM urges Afghans to end vote deadlock

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France's top diplomat on Sunday urged Afghans to work together to find a solution to their election dispute and said he detected a willingness among President Hamid Karzai and his challenger to work together.

Kabul - France's top diplomat on Sunday urged Afghans to work together to find a solution to their election dispute and said he detected a willingness among President Hamid Karzai and his challenger to work together.

"I am concerned because it seems that no one is ready to accept the results," said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, calling for an end to deadlock over the results of the presidential election, nearly two months on.

The August 20 poll result has been delayed and overshadowed by allegations of fraud, mostly against Karzai, including findings by EU observers that a quarter of all votes, or 1.5 million, were suspicious.

Karzai leads a preliminary vote count with 54.6 percent and his supporters have brushed aside the possibility of a second round, despite mounting speculation that investigations into fraud could see him lose his outright majority.

"In France, in Europe, in the world, we would really like to understand what is happening," Kouchner told a Kabul news conference, saying he was speaking on behalf of the full European Union.

"Apparently the fraud was massive," said Kouchner.

"We want things to be clear, that electoral rules are followed by all those concerned, we want a government programme," he added.

Afghan politicians and Western diplomats have been involved in days of horse-trading in the hope of averting a run-off, which could further destabilise the fragile country, with a unity government one possible solution.

The French minister said relations between Karzai and chief challenger Abdullah Abdullah were "not too bad" and said "there was a real will to work together" on a common government programme and to develop the country.

Asked whether the two men were in discussions about forming a national unity government, Kouchner said "yes" before adding the caveat: "But we are talking about lots of things".

"There are several hypotheses," he explained. He said one outcome would be a second round held quickly before the harsh Afghan winter sets in, or that Abdullah stands down from any possible second round.

Alternatively, the supreme court could rule that Karzai has won -- even if the final result denies him the threshold of 50 percent plus one vote -- or an "interim solution" found to govern the country until a second round in spring.

"I am sure that will end the deadlock," Kouchner said.

Speaking in English he added: "We cannot understand why now there is a sort of blockade... We hope that with the results coming out in one day or one week, this blockade will be finished".

AFP/Expatica

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