Outgoing Karzai says Afghans need new president, urges speedy end to ballot audit



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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan's outgoing leader Hamid Karzai said on Monday that his nation needs a new president and urged for a speedy conclusion to the ballot audit that will determine his successor.

In a speech marking the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday that follows the fasting month of Ramadan, Karzai said that Afghans "want to have an outcome to the election as soon as possible, so that this country can have its president soon."

After fraud was alleged by both presidential contenders, all 8 million ballots cast in the second round of the Afghan presidential vote in June are being audited under national and international supervision.

The process is key to insuring a peaceful transfer of power ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops by the end of the year.

In his speech, Karzai also expressed sympathy with the suffering of Gaza Palestinians in the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war, and said the Afghans "remember the people of Palestine in Gaza who get killed brutally, night and day."

Karzai also reiterated calls on the Taliban to join the country's peace process and stop killing other Afghans.

"I call upon the leaders of the Taliban to stop fighting Afghans," Karzai said. "I call on them to live in peace and dignity with their brothers and sisters."

The peace process has been virtually on hold until after the new president is chosen. The two candidates — former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — are awaiting the results of the audit.

In his own message ahead of the Eid holiday, the reclusive leader of the Taliban, Mullah Mohammad Omar, dealt a blow to the peace prospects last Friday, when he warned that a bilateral security pact allowing thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of this year will mean more fighting.

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