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Sep 21, 3:52 AM EDT

Afghan presidential candidates sign unity deal


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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan's two presidential candidates have signed a power-sharing deal for the roles of president and chief executive three months after a disputed runoff that threatened to plunge the country into turmoil and complicate the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, who will become president, and Abdullah Abdullah signed the national unity government deal as outgoing President Hamid Karzai watched. The deal follows weeks of negotiations on a power-sharing arrangement following accusations of fraud in the June runoff vote.

The deal is a victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit.

The inauguration to replace Karzai - who has been in power since late 2001 - is expected within days.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Afghanistan's two presidential candidates were set to a sign a power-sharing deal on national TV on Sunday, three months after a disputed runoff that threatened to plunge the country into turmoil and complicate the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops.

Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and Abdullah Abdullah were to sign the national unity government deal at the presidential palace at noon local time (0730 GMT), said the spokesman for President Hamid Karzai. The deal, agreed to in talks that began late Saturday, follows weeks of negotiations on a power-sharing arrangement following accusations of fraud in the June runoff vote.

The deal would be a victory for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who first got the candidates to agree in principle to share power during a July visit to Afghanistan. Kerry returned to Kabul in August and has spent hours with the candidates in repeated phone calls in an effort to seal the deal.

As talks dragged out, Abdullah's mostly northern supporters threatened to form a parallel government or react violently to any outright victory by Ghani Adhmadzai, a former finance minister and World Bank official whose power base is in the country's south and east. For his part, Ghani Ahmadzai said he always maintained that ethnic politics in Afghanistan demand some sort of power sharing deal and not a winner-takes-all government.

The deal will see Ghani Ahmadzai replace Hamid Karzai as president. Abdullah will hold the newly created post of chief executive, akin to a prime minister.

Abdullah believes he won the first round of the election back in April by a margin of more than 50 percent, which would have precluded a runoff. But the official results showed him winning about 45 percent of that vote in a crowded presidential field of 10, not quite enough for an outright victory.

He also believes he won a June runoff with Ghani Ahmadzai. But official totals - which the election commission said it would release on Sunday - show Ghani Ahmadzai with about 55 percent of the vote.

A power-sharing deal was almost sealed about a week ago, but Abdullah then demanded that no vote totals from the runoff be released.

U.N. and Afghan election officials spent weeks auditing the runoff results after allegations of fraud, a common occurrence over Afghanistan's last two presidential elections. But Ghani Ahmadzai's runoff vote total only dropped by about 1 percent after the audit. Abdullah's side maintained the fraud was so sophisticated it was undetectable.

In the end, high-stakes negotiations -- and not a precise vote tally -- appear to have settled the country's power structure.

The U.S. has been pushing for a resolution so the next president can sign a security agreement that would allow about 10,000 U.S. forces to remain in the country after combat operations wrap up at the end of the year.

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