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Rival Afghan 'presidents' hold parallel inaugurations

March 9, 2020

Can a country have two presidents? Bickering rivals Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani both claim to be president and held rival swearing-in ceremonies at the same palace.

Abdullah Abdullah und Ashraf Ghani look away from each other
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/M. Hossaini

Afghanistan's two presidential rivals held parallel presidential inaugurations at the same palace on Monday.

Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah both claimed victory after last September's presidential elections. Ghani was declared the official winner but the polls were dogged by successive delays and claims of vote-rigging, said the country's electoral complaints commission.

The ceremonies took place within minutes of each other in separate venues that were erected inside the grounds of Kabul's presidential palace.

Ghani's ceremony was aired on state TV and was attended by US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad as well as the head of US forces in Afghanistan. Abdullah's inauguration was broadcast on privately-owned Tolo TV and attended by several warlord commanders who allied with the US-led coalition against the Taliban.

Two blasts were heard during the ceremonies prompting some of the audience to leave. "I have no bulletproof vest on, only my shirt, I will stay even if I have to sacrifice my head," Ghani told the remaining crowd, reported AFP news agency.

The in-fighting over the presidency further complicates a fragile peace deal between the Taliban and the US arranged on February 29. Talks between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban were meant to be the next step in the US-arranged plan but the country is unable to present a united government.

Read more: Ghani's re-election: How will it impact the US-Taliban deal?

I'll delay mine if you delay yours

Khalilzad was enlisted to try to get both sides to delay their inaugurations and reach an agreement, according to local press. But both Abdullah and Ghani said had that they would only postpone if the other agreed to do so and the inauguration ceremonies were only pushed back by several hours.

Earlier on Monday, Abdullah warned that he was in no mood to back down, tweeting: "Our track record of self-denial and compromise should not have given cause to anyone to take us for granted."

Abdullah and Ghani sit next to each other with Sayyaf
Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are old political rivalsImage: Executive director of Afghanistan

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed told AFP news agency late on Sunday that the competing presidents "are not good for the Afghan nation" but the Taliban were still committed to the US peace deal.

kmm/ng (AP,AFP, Reuters)

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