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Asian chief wins bitter battle to hold FIFA seat

ASIAN soccer chief Mohamed Bin Hammam narrowly fought off a vicious challenge to his seat on the FIFA executive board today after one of the most vitriolic political battles the region's soccer world has known.

The Qatari, who has held the seat unopposed since 1996, beat off the challenge of Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa by 23 votes to 21, with two spoiled papers, to put an end to the no-holds-barred fighting that has raged in the region.

Bin Hammam, who was branded "mentally ill" and likened to the head of a crime organisation in astonishing personal attacks which characterised the campaign against him, will now represent West Asia on the FIFA committee for another four-year term.

"To those who supported me today, thank you very much," Bin Hammam, who was celebrating his 60th birthday, told AFC members.

"I promise you that I am going to do more than I have done in the past. For those who chose not to support me today I also promise them I will do my best to have your confidence and trust in me next time.

"Asia needs all of us ... both camps. We need to work hand in hand and we need to work together."

The respective campaigns had been dogged by allegations of dirty tricks, intimidation and corruption, with Bin Hammam accusing his opponent of being a stooge for his long-time foes in East Asia, Southeast Asia and the Gulf.

Bin Hammam, though, went all out to prove he was beyond reproach in the hours leading up to the congress vote and narrowly squeezed through to reclaim his place at the top table of world soccer's governing body.

He successfully spiked his opponents' guns right at the start when he called on the members to accept Kuwait as a full voting member at the congress despite their administration falling foul of AFC's strict criteria.


"(FIFA president Sepp) Blatter has talked of fair play and fair play is my game," said Bin Hammam, who had threatened to quit the AFC presidency if he lost the vote.

"I would like to propose to congress, by the name of the president of the AFC, to accept Kuwait as a voting member of this congress," he added to loud applause from the floor.

Kuwait had been a vocal opponent of Bin Hammam in the run-up to the vote and insiders had suggested he would attempt to block them to boost his chances in the FIFA vote.

The Qatari drew loud applause from the floor for a second time when he called on members to call off a vote on whether to shift the AFC's headquarters away from Kuala Lumpur.

The 46 members of the AFC had been due to vote on whether or not to accept bids from other nations to host the regional body.

"Yesterday I met with the Prime Minister of Malaysia (Najib Razak) who has shown great sympathy and concern over keeping our headquarters in Malaysia," the Qatari told the congress. "He is going to look into this matter himself."

Malaysia has been home to the AFC since 1965 and the topic of it moving had caused consternation among the membership.

Bin Hammam, speaking in front of Blatter, said the region must now move on.

"I hope the future brings us trust and confidence and I hope you will continue to trust me," he told the assembled delegates.

"Both camps must come together and must heal for the future, and the future is Asia."

Sheikh Salman echoed those sentiments.

"A page has been turned," he told Reuters. "The difference was just one vote ... the objective now is to win back trust."


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