Afghans slam Karzai for pulling out of poll debate
Opponents of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and ordinary Afghans criticized the president for failing to take part in a televised election debate on Thursday, saying he was scared to confront them head-on, Reuters reported.
Karzai, a clear front-runner for the August 20 poll, had been due to take on rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, but withdrew on the eve of the first debate of the campaign, saying more opponents and media outlets should have been involved.
Abdullah and Ghani, both former cabinet ministers under Karzai and seen as the only serious rivals in a field of 39 challengers, went ahead with the televised debate on the privately owned Tolo channel without Karzai.
The election is being fought against a backdrop of increased violence, with thousands of U.S. marines and British troops launching major operations against the Taliban in the south this month and civilian and military casualties at record levels.
"We are losing the Afghan people and they are going toward the enemy's side," said former foreign minister Abdullah.
"We cannot blame anyone one else for this other than this current government, the leader of which is unfortunately not here to answer to the people of Afghanistan," he said, motioning toward an empty podium.
Karzai has not ruled out taking part in future debates.
Karzai has led Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces.
He won Afghanistan's first direct presidential vote in 2004.
An opinion survey by a U.S.-based group published in May gave Karzai a wide lead, with 31 percent support as the most popular choice for president.
Abdullah and Ghani both attracted only single-digit support.