Monday, November 2, 2009

New Chapter On Curruption in Afghanistan as Obama Calls Karzai

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday to open a "new chapter" for his country by initiating reforms and cracking down on corruption.

Obama telephoned Karzai after he was declared the winner in the presidential election to offer congratulations but also to urge him to get serious about improving the government, fighting corruption and speeding up the training of Afghan security forces.

"The proof is not going to be in words, it's going to be in deeds," Obama said at a meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Afghan elections officials on Monday named Karzai the winner after his challenger, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, dropped out of the run-off election scheduled for this weekend, alleging the outcome would not be fair.

Karzai's re-election was hampered by allegations of fraud in the first round of voting Aug 20. Karzai had initially captured more than 50 percent of the vote for an outright victory. But he fell below that threshold after fraudulent ballots were tossed out, forcing him - under US pressure - to agree to a run-off against Abdullah.

The White House said that Karzai's victory was legitimate even though the election process was ridden with problems.

"Although the process was messy, I am pleased to say the final outcome was determined in accordance with Afghan law, which I think is very important," Obama said.

The problematic electoral process has raised questions about Karzai's legitimacy at a time when Obama is reviewing the administration's policy in Afghanistan and needs credible leadership in Kabul. Earlier this year there were reports that Karzai had fallen into disfavour within the Obama administration because of the widespread corruption in his government.

"President Karzai has been declared the winner of the Afghan election and will head the next government of Afghanistan," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. "So, obviously, he's the legitimate leader of the country."

The Obama administration was concerned about an alliance with a government headed by someone viewed by the Afghan people as an illegitimate leader. Obama is weighing whether to send up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to step up the fight against the Taliban.

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