KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) - Afghanistan's audit of votes cast in June's presidential election resumed on Sunday without the backing of Mr Abdullah Abdullah, one of the two candidates, officials said, as the fraud-tainted poll was pitched into further uncertainty.
The country's first democratic transfer of power has been engulfed in a dispute over alleged fraud, wrecking hopes that the election would be seen as a key achievement of the US-led military and civilian aid effort since 2001. Instead, the contest between Mr Abdullah, a former anti-Taleban resistance fighter, and Mr Ashraf Ghani, an ex-World Bank economist, threatens to spark a spiral of instability as Nato troops pull out and violence increases nationwide.
After Mr Abdullah rejected preliminary results that named Mr Ghani as the winner of the June 14 election, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kabul and persuaded the two candidates to agree to the audit to sift out fraudulent votes. But the UN-supervised process only triggered another outbreak of disagreements, and Mr Abdullah's campaign on Sunday refused to rejoin after repeated stoppages.
"The commission waited yesterday and today, but we are half through the day and Abdullah's observers are not here," Mr Noor Mohammad Noor, the Independent Election Commission (IEC) spokesman, told reporters. "We have decided to continue the audit without any further interruptions."
More than eight million votes were cast on polling day, but Mr Abdullah quickly lodged claims that "industrial-scale" fraud had denied him victory.
"Our negotiations with the UN over the audit are ongoing," his spokesman Mujib Rahman Rahimi told AFP after the audit restarted, without giving any further details.
The new president was to have been inaugurated on Aug 2, but no new date has been set - to the growing frustration of many Afghans, the UN, Nato and foreign diplomats in Kabul.
A US State Department official said Saturday that Mr Kerry had spoken to both Mr Abdullah and Mr Ghani to reiterate his support for the deal agreeing on a full audit as well as formation of a unity government after the result.
"He stressed the urgency... of accelerating the post-election audit and implementing the political framework agreement," the official said.
The disputed result has over-shadowed earlier celebrations over the high turnout and lack of major militant attacks in both the April first-round vote and the June run-off.
Mr Daud Sultanzoy, a spokesman for Mr Ghani, accused Mr Abdullah of reneging on agreements over how the audit would be conducted.
"Their demands keep changing, our negotiations have ended and we have accepted what the UN has proposed, but they want the whole process to begin again," Mr Sultanzoy told Tolo TV news.
"If that is the case, we will also start everything from zero again."
Mr Abdullah believes he was also cheated of power in the 2009 election when he withdrew from the run-off accusing President Hamid Karzai of systematic fraud.
Mr Karzai, who has ruled since the Taleban were ousted in 2001, is barred from standing for a third term in office, and has stayed publicly neutral in the race to succeed him.
In a grim reflection of unrest across Afghanistan, a UN report last month revealed that civilian casualties from the conflict soared by 24 per cent in the first half of 2014.
Any street unrest by the candidates' supporters would revive memories of the 1992-1996 civil war.
Mr Abdullah draws most of his support from Tajiks and other northern Afghan groups, while Mr Ghani's support base is mainly among the Pashtun tribes of the south and east.