Afghan elections: US pursues talks to help solve poll dispute

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

US Secretary of State John Kerry is holding a second day of talks in Afghanistan to try to end a row over the result of the presidential poll.

Mr Kerry is meeting candidates Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who accuse each other of electoral fraud, at the US compound in the capital, Kabul.

Mr Ghani, the winner of preliminary results in the second round, has backed an "extensive audit" of votes.

Meanwhile, 10 people have been killed in bomb attacks blamed on the Taliban.

Eight civilians, including several women, died when a roadside bomb blew up in southern Kandahar province. A bomb in the eastern city of Jalalabad, in Nangarhar province, claimed two more lives.

Afghanistan's current President Hamid Karzai, who came to office after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban, is stepping down after more than 10 years.

Soldier inspects blown-up car in Jalalabad (12 July 2014) A bomb in the city of Jalalabad killed a civilian and a police officer on Saturday, officials said
Security concerns

US officials said they were hoping for a breakthrough on Saturday after the first day of negotiations remained inconclusive.

The US Secretary of State, who arrived in Kabul on Friday in a hastily arranged visit, earlier welcomed Mr Ghani's backing of an audit.

"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," Mr Kerry told journalists ahead of starting the talks.

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

How rival candidates compare

Ashraf Ghani Abdullah Abdullah

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

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

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 warned it would be "premature" for either side to claim victory.

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"

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 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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