Afghan president says opponents welcome in gov't

Afghan president says opponents welcome in gov't

Afghanistan's president welcomed his re-election by default Tuesday and reached out to opponents, promising to create a government of national participation and banish corruption that has undermined his administration, AP reported.

President Hamid Karzai spoke a day after he was declared victor of an election so marred by fraud that his opponent dropped out of a planned runoff because he said it could not be free or fair.

Karzai said he wants people from every part of the country in his government, including Taliban who are ready to cooperate with the administration and political opponents. But he never mentioned his former challenger Abdullah Abdullah by name.

"Those who want to work with me are most welcome, regardless of whether they opposed me in the election or whether they supported me in the elections," Karzai said.

The Taliban claimed their own victory, saying in a statement the canceled runoff showed their efforts to derail the vote by threats and attacks were successful.

"Our brave mujahedeen were able to disrupt the entire process. Even the airstrikes and ground forces were not able to stop our mujahedeen from their attacks," the statement said. The canceled vote also showed that Afghans heeded their call not to participate in an election they said was the tool of foreigners, the statement said.

Election officials had cited concern about security as one reason not to go ahead with a vote with a foregone conclusion.

Abdullah, who once served as Karzai's foreign minister, has said he will not join Karzai's administration, but will work from the outside for reforms and for national unity.

Karzai did not spell out how he would institute reforms, nor mention whether he is willing to make concessions to his opponents.

Karzai did say that he needs international support and does not want to squander the goodwill of those supplying thousands of troops and funds to Afghanistan.

Even so, people close to Karzai and Abdullah say they spent the past few days negotiating privately about ministry seats or accommodating Abdullah's platform in some way. The U.S. and its allies have also pressured Karzai to institute reforms and to reach out to the Abdullah camp.

President Barack Obama said Monday that he had called for a new chapter during a telephone call congratulating Karzai over his re-election.

When Karzai offered assurances, Obama told him that "the proof is not going to be in words. It's going to be in deeds."

Karzai acknowledged during the press conference that Afghanistan "has a bad name from corruption." He has repeatedly promised to tackle corruption during his previous five years as president but with no success.

"We will do our best through all possible means to eliminate this dark stain from our clothes," he said.

He did not give details about how he will institute reforms, or mention and specifics about what he will do to reach out to opponents beyond welcoming them if they want to join with him.

Karzai did say that he needs international support and does not want to squander the goodwill of those supplying thousands of troops and funds to Afghanistan.

He said he wants to "make sure that the taxpayers' money coming to us from your countries is spent wisely and rightly by us, the Afghan government, and also by the donors themselves."

The messy end to the election left the United States and its allies with the difficult task of helping the Karzai government restore legitimacy both at home and abroad. Public support for the war is already dropping in the U.S. and other countries with troops in Afghanistan. The image of a fraud-stained Afghan partner does little to reverse the slide.

But those same nations were reticent to go through with a Nov. 7 runoff that risked lives.

Taliban attacks killed dozens during the first round in August, while in some areas, militants cut off the ink-marked fingers of people who had voted.

Organizing enough security to prevent violence in a hastily arranged runoff would have posed a serious challenge for coalition forces in Afghanistan, and some officers commanding NATO forces voiced relief at the vote's cancellation.

Col. Benoit Durieux, who heads the battalion of some 750 French Foreign Legion in the Surobi area east of the capital, said his men could now focus on other tasks.

"We clearly won the first round against the Taliban in terms of securing the elections," Durieux told The Associated Press in the Tora forward operating base, some 40 miles (65 kilometers) east of Kabul. "Why give them the opportunity of a replay?"

The Taliban said last week's suicide bombing of a guesthouse used by U.N. election workers "showed that even they are not safe in Kabul." The attackers killed five U.N. staffers and three Afghans.

It insisted that all decisions about the vote had been taken by Western powers, saying that "the announcement of the election result yesterday showed for the people that all the decisions about the elections were made in Washington and London."

The Taliban regarded the election as a Western plot and had threatened to ramp up attacks on those participating in the runoff.

NATO and Afghan forces had two to three months to prepare the security of the first round on Aug. 20. But organizing a second round in barely two weeks had been viewed as a major challenge, Durieux said. "And the insurgents saw our techniques, our positions during the vote, so they'd have more insight" to try to disrupt a new round of voting, he said.

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