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Ex-Afghan Foreign Minister To Run Against Karzai

Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah registeres as a candidate for the presidential elections at the office of the Independent Election Commission in Kabul.
KABUL (Reuters) -- A former Afghan foreign minister has registered to run for president, but other opposition figures had yet to make clear if they would unite to give one candidate the best chance of ousting Hamid Karzai.

Candidates have until May 8 to register for the August 20 election. Karzai registered on May 4 hours before flying to the United States for his first meeting with Barack Obama since he was elected U.S. president.

So far, the opposition has had little success in uniting behind a single candidate with a broad enough base of support to challenge Karzai, who has led the country since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001.

Abdullah Abdullah, who was one of the senior figures in the anti-Taliban alliance before 2001 and then served as Karzai's foreign minister until 2006, registered to stand on May 6 and told reporters he would give more power to the regions.

He would push to reduce the president's authority, create a post of prime minister responsible to parliament, and hold direct elections for governors and mayors.

"Decentralizing the system is one of the difficulties that Afghanistan is facing," he said. "All major decisions are (now) taken under particular circumstances by a particular team, and Afghanistan's people have a lesser participation."

Regional Autonomy

The call for regional autonomy could help him win support among provincial bosses who bristle at central authority under Karzai, who now has the power to appoint and fire governors.

Abdullah is half-Tajik and half-Pashtun, with shared heritage from the two largest ethnic groups in the country. But he is mainly linked to Tajiks due to a long-standing association with the late Tajik guerrilla leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud.

He named a former royalist Pashtun and a member of the Hazara minority as his two running mates. But he could face difficulty winning support from the Pashtuns who form Afghanistan's biggest ethnic bloc.

Karzai and most other leading opposition candidates are Pashtuns. Several of the Pashtun rivals have been in talks to field a single candidate to run against Karzai, but have yet to reveal their plans with just two days left to register.

One of the main Pashtun candidates, regional Governor Gul Agha Sherzai, pulled out of the race abruptly on May 2, apparently to back Karzai.

Another opposition leader, former Tajik guerrilla chief Mohammad Qasim Fahim, quit Abdullah's National Front opposition group to run as one of Karzai's running mates.