Afghan presidential vote leader Ghani backs poll audit

Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai meets with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Friday, July 11 Former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani came second in the first round but now leads a preliminary count

Ashraf Ghani, one of two candidates disputing the Afghan presidential election, says he backs an "extensive audit" of votes.

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

Mr Kerry is also meeting Mr Ghani's rival Abdullah Abdullah.

Mr 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," Mr Ghani said.

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

"High hopes": Mr Kerry meets Ashraf Ghani

"No-one is declaring victory at this time. The results have yet to be finalised 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.

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Afghanistan"s incumbent President Hamid Karzai (R) at the presidential palace in Kabul July 11, John Kerry (l) met with Afghan president Hamid Karzai soon after arriving in Kabul
Analysis by Karen Allen, BBC News, Kabul

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit is "critical" in ensuring the election authorities deliver a credible result which is "broadly acceptable" to the Afghan people.

In mathematical terms that means pushing for a much broader audit of votes - beyond the 3 million currently identified. In diplomatic terms it means finding a way through the fog of mistrust so that both sides start working together.

When earlier this week Abdullah Abdullah faced pressure from his supporters to declare a parallel government, the US quickly responded by warning that such an act would trigger the suspension of aid and security assistance.

Mr Abdullah pulled back from the brink but he will have to show his frustrated followers that the meeting with John Kerry has broadened the scope of the audit to prevent them spilling onto the streets - angry and armed.

Ashraf Ghani will be looking for some lines in the sand. One of his close aides told me they would continue to co-operate with the election authorities but feared that the "cascading demands" of Abdullah's side - was simply a "delaying tactic. They're looking to John Kerry to manage that.

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Taliban offensive

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

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

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

In that round, Mr Abdullah fell just short of an outright majority, with 44.9%, with Mr 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 22 July.

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

How rival candidates compare

Ashraf Ghani Abdullah Abdullah
Ghani

Technocrat and former World Bank official. Open to talks with Taliban

Abdullah

Former anti-Soviet resistance member. Wary of Taliban talks

Leading in Pashtun-dominated southern provinces

Ahead in mainly Tajik northern areas

Backed by Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek ex-warlord accused of human rights abuses

Supported by wealthy Balkh governor Atta Mohammad, a bitter Dostum rival

Has support of Qayyum Karzai, brother of President Karzai

Also has backing of Mohamed Mohaqiq, powerful leader of ethnic Hazaras

Ahmed Zia Masood, whose brother was a famous resistance hero, helped balance ticket

Gul Agha Sherzai, an influential Pashtun, helped bring ethnic balance to ticket

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.

Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul Abdullah Abdullah, in the blue shirt, insists that he is the rightful election winner
Ashraf Ghani in Kabul (8 July 2014) Ashraf Ghani (centre) has called on his opponent to not "drag the country into further crises"
Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah stand, chained together, during a protest against what they say is fraud committed during the recent presidential election in Kabul July 11 Supporters of Abdullah Abdullah held a protest in Kabul against what they claimed was electoral fraud

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 Mr Abdullah and Mr 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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