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Outgoing Afghan president downsizes retirement home

11 september 2014, 16:42

 Afghan President Hamid Karzai has decided a lavish residence specially built for his imminent retirement is too big and he will move into a more modest home instead, an official said Thursday, AFP reports.

Karzai was due to settle down in the imposing new property next door to the presidential palace -- fuelling speculation that he intends to play an active role in the country's politics when he leaves office.

But he has changed his mind and decreed that the colonnaded building with sweeping marble staircases would be more suitable as a guesthouse for foreign dignitaries and other visitors travelling to Kabul to meet the next president.

Karzai's new domestic arrangements emerged as his two potential successors remain at loggerheads over who won the June 14 election, which has been engulfed in allegations of massive ballot-rigging.

"The house that was supposed to be for the retired president is built and was inaugurated today," presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP.

"But President Karzai has decided he will not live in this residence. It is too big and he said it was better for it to be a government guesthouse.

"He did not change his mind at the last minute. Weeks ago, he visited the project and said that it was way above the standards of life for ordinary Afghan people, so it should not be his future residence.

"He will have a normal, Afghan-type home in Kabul. It is not a newly-built house, and people will soon know exactly where it is."

  Wanted: New president 

Karzai, 56, has been packed and ready for weeks, waiting to move out of the presidential palace where he has lived since coming to power after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

He has repeatedly urged poll rivals Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah to end their stalemate, which has emboldened Taliban insurgents, weakened the fragile economy and put international military and aid support at risk.

"The president will leave as soon as the result of the election is announced and the new president is declared," said Faizi.

All eight million votes have been audited in a UN-supervised process to weed out fraud, but the two candidates are also wrangling over the shape of a national unity government that they have agreed to form whoever wins.

Ghani, who came well ahead of Abdullah in the preliminary election results, is pushing for the audit results to be released as soon as possible.

"I ask the election commission to announce the outcome in the next few days and take the nation out of uncertainty," he said late Wednesday.

He also said he was open to further talks with Abdullah, who insists he won the election and says negotiations over the unity government have failed.

The unity government and audit were part of a US-brokered deal to calm tensions as fears rose that the election dispute could spark a return to the ethnic violence of the 1990s civil war.

"When we finish our work, we will announce the result regardless of what the candidates say," Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the Independent Election Commission, said Thursday.

"The physical work is 100 percent complete, we only have a few cases that need to be rechecked."

Faizi stressed that Karzai, who has a wife and three children, will not stay on in the presidential palace to lead an interim government if the election crisis deepens further.

"He has said many times that he is not going to leave the country, so he will live in his new house for many years," Faizi added.

"If asked by the future president, he will be there to advise him only."

The presidential inauguration was due on August 2 and no new date has yet been set.

by Ben Sheppard

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