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October 22, 2009

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Karzai opponent agrees to election

AFGHANISTAN President Hamid Karzai's chief political rival agreed yesterday to take part in the November 7 run-off election, setting the stage for a high-stakes showdown in the face of Taliban threats and approaching winter snows.

Ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah made his comment to reporters one day after Karzai accepted findings of a United Nations-backed panel that there had been massive fraud on his behalf in the August 20 vote.

Those findings showed Karzai failed to win the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff.

Election officials have fired 200 district election chiefs - about half of those from the first round - following complaints by candidates or observers about misconduct in their regions, the UN said last week.

Abdullah said he telephoned Karzai to thank him for agreeing to the second-round ballot.

"We are completely ready for the second round," Abdullah said, calling on Afghan officials to organize a "free, fair and credible election" with enough security to encourage people to turn out and vote.

Abdullah's declaration sets the stage for an election that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said would be a "huge challenge" to pull off without repeating the widespread fraud that marred the first-round balloting.

Finding replacements for election workers implicated in fraud will be difficult.

The government had to scramble this summer to recruit enough election officials and poll workers, especially at voting stations for women.

It's unclear if they would be able to fill all the vacant positions with better-qualified people.


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