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Kerry seeks to broker end to Afghan election crisis

KABUL, Afghanistan--U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sought Friday to mediate an end to the political crisis in Afghanistan, warning that a bitter dispute over presidential polls threatened the country's future.

As the top U.S. diplomat met separately with the rival candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, Kerry stressed that results released Monday showing Ghani in the lead were “preliminary.”

“They are neither authoritative nor final, and no-one should be stating a victory at this point in time,” Kerry said, as he held back-to-back meetings in the heavily-fortified U.S. Embassy.

“We want a unified, stable, democratic Afghanistan. It is important that whoever is president is recognized by the people as having become president through a legitimate process,” he said.

The next government should be one that “can unify” the people and “lead in the future,” Kerry said.

Despite Monday's announcement, Abdullah, who has already once lost a presidential bid in controversial circumstances, has declared himself the true winner, saying massive fraud robbed him of victory in the June 14 run-off vote.

In a swift boost for Kerry's diplomacy, Ghani threw his backing behind U.S. calls for a wide audit of the elections.

“Our commitment is to ensure that the election process enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy of the people of Afghanistan and the world,” Ghani told reporters as he met with Kerry.

“Therefore we believe in the most intensive and extensive audit possible to restore faith.”

High Stakes

A statement from the office of outgoing President Hamid Karzai said U.N. officials had put forward a plan late Thursday to audit some 8,000 ballot boxes, representing 43 percent of the total votes — or around 3.5 million votes.

Ghani said he and his supporters were committed to “an inclusive government. A government that could represent all of Afghans, and serve every Afghan citizen in the manner that every Afghan deserves according to the constitution.”

The stakes could not be higher, as the next president will have to steer the war-torn country as international troops withdraw, leaving Afghan forces to fight a bloody, stubbornly resilient Taliban insurgency.

Abdullah thanked Kerry for coming as well as continued U.S. support and for “the sacrifices that your people have done alongside the Afghans.”

But he said that “the future of our achievement depends upon the success of the democratic process.”

“It's not the number of troops, it's not the money,” Abdullah said, adding that the U.S. once again had “proved your commitment to helping Afghanistan, in saving Afghanistan, and in saving the democratic process here.”

The election stand-off has sparked fears that protests could spiral into ethnic violence — and even lead to a return of the fighting between warlords that ravaged Afghanistan during the 1992-1996 civil war.

Need for Thorough Audit

“Our hopes are that there is a road that can be found that will provide that capacity for the questions to be answered, for people's doubts to be satisfied and hopefully for a future to be defined,” Kerry said.

But he warned that was not “an automatic at this point.”

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Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, left, appears with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the start of a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Friday, July 11. (AP)

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