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Afghanistan's Abdullah Pulls Out Of Runoff Vote 'In Interests Of The Nation'

WATCH: An emotional Abdullah Abdullah announces his decision to withdraw. "I...I put emphasis and protest against the wrong action taken by the government and the action taken by the Independent Election Commission. I will not participate in the [November 7] election."

KABUL/PRAGUE (RFE/RL) -- Opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah has announced that he is pulling out of next weekend's runoff presidential election in Afghanistan.

Abdullah told a large crowd of supporters at a gathering in the capital, Kabul, that he is withdrawing because demands he made for a fair vote, including the sacking of Afghanistan's top election official in the wake of the tainted first round, had not been met by government or election officials.

The former Afghan foreign minister said withdrawal from the runoff contest against incumbent President Hamid Karzai had not been an easy decision to take. But he said a transparent election was not possible on November 7.

He said his decision was made "in the interests of the nation."

He said the people of Afghanistan have the right to a free and fair election, calling the first ballot on August 20 a "failure."

Abdullah told reporters that he is not calling on his supporters to boycott the upcoming vote.

Karzai Expresses Regret

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Karzai said he will accept any decision by the Afghan Independent Election Commission regarding the runoff.

Karzai expressed regret over Abdullah's decision but said he was free to make up his own mind.

"I heard the comments by my brother Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. I would have been happy if he would have participated in the race," Karzai said. "It would have been in the interest of all of us."

Karzai confirmed that he recently had a "private" meeting with Abdullah over a number of issues. He said he told Abdullah that sacking Afghan election officials should be done according to the laws. Karzai did not give more details about the meeting.

Afghanistan's top electoral officer says the runoff will go ahead with Karzai as the only candidate.

"Based on election laws and based on the constitution, there should be a second round. The constitution is clear," Daoud Ali Najafi, chief electoral officer of the government-appointed Independent Election Commission, told Reuters.

LISTEN: Hashem Mohmand, the deputy director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, speaks with senior correspondent Golnaz Esfandiari about whether the Afghan runoff vote will proceed and what it may mean for President Hamid Karzai's legitimacy:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made clear the Obama administration would work with Karzai should he remain the leader of the next government, as now seems likely.

"It is now a matter for the Afghan authorities to decide on a way ahead that brings this electoral process to a conclusion in line with the Afghan Constitution," Clinton said in a statement e-mailed to reporters while she was traveling in Morocco.

"We will support the next president and the people of Afghanistan, who seek and deserve a better future," she added.

She urged Abdullah to "stay engaged" and work for peace.

The runoff was triggered after a UN-led investigation found that widespread fraud, mainly in favor of Karzai, had been committed during the first round. Karzai was expected to win the runoff.

Following Abdullah's announcement, his running mate, Homayoun Assefy, was quoted as saying by The Associated Press that it is up to the Independent Election Commission to now decide whether there will be a vote on November 7.

Nader Naderi, who heads Afghanistan's Free and Fair Election Foundation, said Afghan law stipulated that a runoff has to take place.

He was quoted as saying that the Afghan Constitution does not present any other alternatives.

Najib Mahmud, a professor of law at Kabul University, told RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan that there is no need for a second round.

"I believe that the vote shouldn’t take place anymore, even though Hamid Karzai’s team says that he will take part in the second round," Mahmud says. "When one candidates pulls out, the other candidate can automatically take over the presidency."

LISTEN: Hashem Mohmand, the deputy director of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, speaks about the possible impact of Abdullah's decision on the foreign troop presence in the country:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on October 31, in reaction to speculation about Abdullah's pullout, that such a move is not unprecedented and would not compromise the legitimacy of the vote.

But some analysts say Karzai's legitimacy would indeed be seriously undermined.

In Kabul, RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Breshna Nazari says Abdullah's decision complicates the country's fragile political situation and casts a shadow over the vote.

"Dr. Abdullah has millions of supporters inside Afghanistan and [if they decide not to vote], that could undermine the legitimacy of the vote," Nazari says. "President Hamid Karzai standing alone in the November 7 race is a very complicated and difficult issue."

Lawyer Saeed Rahi is quoted by "The Guardian" newspaper as saying that the only solution is for a Loya Jirga -- a traditional gathering of elders, power brokers, and others -- to make a final decision.

"The Supreme Court may be able to prolong or extend Karzai's term in office by a few months as an emergency measure, but only as an interim measure until a Loya Jirga could be established," he says.

with agency reports