Updated: 07/07/2014 19:49 | By Agence France-Presse

Afghan election candidate set to reject result

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah was set to reject the preliminary election result due to be announced Monday, heightening a political crisis over fraud that threatens to trigger instability as US-led troops pull out.

Afghan election candidate set to reject result

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah gestures as he speaks during a press conference at his residence in Kabul on July 6, 2014 - by Wakil Kohsar

Abdullah, previously seen as the election front-runner, alleges he was the victim of "industrial-scale" ballot-box stuffing on June 14 and has vowed not to recognise the vote count.

His poll rival Ashraf Ghani, who was reported to be at least one million votes ahead, says the result is fair and must be released on Monday.

The result was due out at 2:00 pm (0930 GMT), but was delayed as Independent Election Commission officials were reportedly meeting behind closed doors.

The cause of the delay was not known, though the candidates have been involved in last-minute negotiations over a proposed audit of suspicious votes.

Influential US Senator Carl Levin, on a visit to Kabul, told reporters on Sunday that the preliminary result would likely be followed by the audit to allay Abdullah's fears of fraud.

The United Nations and Afghanistan's international backers had lobbied hard to try to ensure a smooth election process, but the contested outcome could realise their worst fears and raises the risk of civil unrest.

Following the preliminary result on Monday, the official result is scheduled for July 24 after a period for adjudication of complaints.

The deadlock has tipped Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power into chaos as US-led troops end their 13-year war against the Taliban, and the country faces a new era with declining civilian aid.

"What we are asking for is thorough auditing, then preliminary results afterwards," Abdullah told supporters in Kabul late Sunday.

"We are honoured to claim that we are the majority of votes in Afghanistan that are clean."

- Ethnic tensions could ignite -

Ghani's team said further delays were unacceptable.

"This is a red line for us," Azita Rafhat, a Ghani spokeswoman, told AFP. "People want to know the result of their votes."

Afghanistan has been battered by decades of conflict, and any power struggle would undermine claims that the hugely costly US-led military and civilian mission has helped to establish a functioning state.

It could also threaten billions of dollars of aid pledges and boost the insurgents.

The government on Sunday rejected a proposal to ban Facebook during the impasse despite fears that social media postings have fanned ethnic hatred.

Ghani attracts much of his support from the Pashtun tribes of the south and east, while Abdullah's loyalists are Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups -- echoing the ethnic divisions of the bloody 1992-1996 civil war.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan has highlighted the risk of political tensions spilling over into violence, though protests have so far been peaceful.

President Hamid Karzai, who has ruled since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, is constitutionally barred from a third term in office, and he has not publicly endorsed any candidate.

With NATO's combat mission ending, the summer has been a major test of the fledgling Afghan government forces, who have been fighting back in the southern province of Helmand after a major Taliban offensive last month.

All foreign combat troops will leave Afghanistan by December, with about 10,000 US troops staying into next year if the new president signs a security deal with Washington.

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