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Hillary Clinton: Afghanistan Vote Legitimate Even if Abdullah Boycotts
Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, has said the Afghan elections would be legitimate even if Abdullah Abdullah boycotted the run-off poll, leaving President Hamid Karzai unopposed.
Following widespread fraud in the August first round, Dr Abdullah and his backers have demanded a list of anti-fraud measures.
His supporters have said he will boycott the November 7 second round if measures he has called a "minimum" needed to avert a repeat of pro-Karzai vote-rigging are not enacted.
Mrs Clinton's comments came amid signs the coalition is no longer expecting a second round to take place and is instead seeking to resolve the political limbo gripping Afghanistan as quickly as possible.
The Abdullah camp said it would announce whether their candidate would pull out of the run-off at a 9.30am (5.00am GMT) Kabul rally on Sunday, but an official added: "We will not participate in an election which is not transparent and fraud-free."
Diplomats have told the Sunday Telegraph they estimate the chances of a second round proceeding to be less than half and falling.
London and Washington are hoping Dr Abdullah will retire "graciously" as an angry boycott would instead risk ethnic violence as his Tajik backers refuse to recognize the result and order their supporters onto the streets.
A two-man run-off was ordered after the disqualification of nearly a million fake Karzai votes meant neither had crossed the 50 per cent threshold marking victory.
Mrs Clinton said the withdrawal of a candidate would not be "unprecedented" and would not affect the legitimacy of the vote.
She said: "We see that happen in our own country where, for whatever combination of reasons, one of the candidates decides not to go forward.
"I don't think it has anything to do with the legitimacy of the election."
Afghanistan's supreme court may be called to rule on whether a second round would be needed in such a case, but few doubt the Karzai-appointed court would back his victory.
Dr Abdullah had demanded the sacking of Azizullah Ludin, chief electoral organiser, the suspension of three ministers and closer scrutiny of polling and counting.
However, none of his key conditions have yet been met and international officials have said the second round is likely to be just as tainted by fraud as the August 20 poll.
The Karzai-appointed Independent Election Commission (IEC) has refused to sack staff and has said it will open more polling centres in the second round, despite UN and international requests to stick to fewer, better-observed stations.
Dr Abdullah had accused Mr Karzai of using the state apparatus to swing the vote.
One election observer said the limited concessions made to prevent further fraud were "ludicrous" and a second round would be a "pretence of a free and fair election" He said: "Stand by for the chorus of 'Afghanistan is not Sweden.'"