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Former Defense Minister Drops Out of Afghan Presidential Race

Afghanistan's former defense minister has dropped out of next month's presidential election, leaving a field of nine candidates to replace outgoing President Hamid Karzai.

Abdul Rahim Wardak announced Sunday he is dropping out of the race but gave no reason for his withdrawal and endorsed no other candidate for the April 5 vote.

Wardak is the second candidate to drop out, following the withdrawal of Mr. Karzai's elder brother, Qayyum Karzai, earlier this month. After announcing his withdrawal, Karzai threw his support behind former foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul, considered one of three leading candidates. The others are former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister who was runner-up in the disputed election of 2009.

Hamid Karzai has served two five-year terms and is barred by law from running again for president. He has declined to sign an agreement with the United States on allowing some American troops to remain in Afghanistan past a deadline at the end of this year.

U.S. officials have said if Mr. Karzai does not agree soon to the long-delayed deal, all U.S. troops will be pulled out of the country in December.

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