Afghan contenders rule out power-sharing deal

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, and his opposition challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, have both ruled out a power-sharing deal before the run-off presidential election is held in two weeks, saying the second round must be held as planned in order to bolster democracy in their war-ravaged country.

Mr Karzai and Mr Abdullah, the former foreign minister, both said yesterday that they were committed to a second-round ballot, despite the huge security and logistical challenges and the threat of Taliban attacks on those who turn out to vote. "It has to be held," Mr Karzai told CNN. "I made sure to have agreement from all the international players before agreeing to a run-off, to have a second round absolutely surely agreed upon and promised. Therefore, we must have a second round. If we don't do that, we'll be insulting democracy and a pledge to respect the vote of the people." Speaking on Fox News, Mr Abdullah, pictured, was asked if he was interested in a deal to avoid a run-off. "No, I think I should rule it out because I'm ready to go for a run-off," he said.

The US President, Barack Obama, is hoping the second round will produce a legitimate government after massive ballot-rigging in the first vote in August. Another flawed election would cast doubt on the wisdom of sending tens of thousands more allied troops to support a weak government tainted by fraud.

Mr Abdullah is seeking the removal of three officials on Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission – its president, Azizullah Lodin, and two others – because of their alleged role in electroal fraud. Mr Lodin and his colleagues deny they were partial towards Mr Karzai and brushed aside Mr Abdullah's concerns as the complaints of a sore loser. However, Mr Abdullah's team stopped short of threatening a boycott if the officials refused to step down.