Karzai snubs TV debate ahead of Afghan poll

Karzai snubs TV debate ahead of Afghan poll

An eagerly awaited television debate between Afghan presidential candidates will go ahead Thursday without President Hamid Karzai, whose campaign team lambasted the host channel as biased, AFP reported.

Karzai's challengers in the August 20 presidential election accused the incumbent, who is standing for a second term, of pulling out because he feared he would be unable to defend his performance during seven years in office.

But Karzai's campaign office said the president had not been given enough notice for the head-to-head on private television channel Tolo, which they accused of being "59 percent against Hamid Karzai."

"So based on that, President Hamid Karzai cannot participate in the debate led by this television station considering its unbalanced and illegitimate position," said a statement sent to media.

It said Karzai would take part in a debate only if it was aired on all TV stations with all candidates in the August 20 election, only the second presidential poll in a country ripped apart by conflict.

Western-backed Karzai is favoured to win, but spokesmen for his main opponents were scathing about his snub.

"He does not have any (policy) programme for the coming five years," said Said Ali Razwani, head of media relations for former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, one of Karzai's strongest challengers.

"I think the unpreparedness shows that and that he has nothing to say to defend himself. That is why he could not participate in this debate."

Ajmal Abidi, head of media relations for fellow frontrunner Ashraf Ghani, accused Karzai of coming up with excuses.

"Mr Karzai fears he cannot face Dr Ashraf Ghani and he cannot face his people. He has no programme, no plans," Abidi told AFP.

Ghani and Abdullah will now face off at 8:00pm (1530 GMT) with Tolo inviting viewers to send in questions for the candidates.

The election comes as Afghanistan is gripped by an Islamist insurgency at its most deadly since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled the Taliban government.

Tackling insecurity and reigning in rampant corruption in the impoverished nation are key manifesto promises from most of the 41 candidates standing on August 20, when provincial elections will also take place.

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