ISLAMABAD - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says both Afghan presidential candidates have agreed to a full U.N.-supervised audit of last month's runoff election ballots and promised to abide by the results.
Speaking late Saturday at a Kabul press conference with runoff candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani at his side, Kerry said "every single ballot" cast across the country will be audited in Kabul starting in 24 hours.
Ballot boxex, he said, will be flown to the Afghan capital under supervision of U.S. and ISAF security forces for audit by international monitors.
Kerry said the process will take a number of weeks, and that outgoing President Hamid Karzai has agreed to postpone the presidential inauguration date to accommodate the audit.
“Every single ballot that was cast will be audited 100 percent, all 8 million," he said. "This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of a desire to restore legitimacy to the process and to Afghan democracy. The audit will be carried out in Kabul and it will begin in 24 hours."
Kerry said representatives from both campaigns and international observers will be involved in the oversight of the recounting process. Both candidates say they agree the winner will serve as president and immediately form a national unity government.
Both candidates had claimed victory in the June 14 runoff to replace Karzai, who is constitutionally barred from seeking another term.
Post-election tensions have been high amid the allegations of ballot fraud, just months before international troops are scheduled to leave the country.
Millions of Afghans took part in the first round of presidential elections April 5, defying threats of violence by the Taliban while election authorities claimed the turnout was even higher in the June 14 runoff vote. Abdullah led the first round but trails in preliminary second round results that put Ghani in the lead by about a million votes.
Abdullah rejected the outcome, accusing President Hamid Karzai, election authorities and the Ghani campaign of colluding against him to rig the vote that could lead to the first peaceful transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.
Kerry met with President Karzai for a second time Saturday in an attempt to end the election crisis. Earlier Saturday, Kerry held talks in Kabul with each candidate separately, meeting first with Abdullah and then with Ghani.
On Friday, the United Nations publicized a plan that would review 3.5 million ballots from 8,050 polling stations — about 44 percent of all ballots cast.
U.S.-led international forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year but optimism about leaving behind a politically stable country has been tarnished by the election deadlock.
Militants kill 8
Afghan officials say a roadside bomb killed eight civilians Saturday when the blast hit their vehicle in the volatile southern part of the country.
Officials say two children were wounded in the explosion near the city of Kandahar. At least four women were killed in the blast.
There has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which authorities are blaming on the Taliban.
Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.