Qayyum Karzai quits Afghan presidential race

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan president's elder brother is dropping out of the April 5 presidential race and throwing his support behind the country's former foreign minister, a campaign official said Wednesday.

The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told The Associated Press that President Hamid Karzai's brother, Qayyum Karzai, was dropping out of the race and will back Zalmai Rassoul.

The decision came after days of speculation and backroom meetings, including some held at the presidential palace.

Although Hamid Karzai has not come out in support of any one candidate, he publicly declared he did not support his brother's candidacy. He said he had urged his brother not to run.

Hamid Karzai, who has served two terms, is not eligible to run under Afghanistan's constitution.

The elder Karzai's decision to step out of the race leaves 10 hopefuls in the upcoming presidential elections.

Karzai's campaign official, who participated in some of the meetings, said it was decided that Rassoul and Karzai shared similar visions for their country and their competing candidacy would split the vote, likely denying either one of them a win at the polls.

The soft-spoken Rassoul served as Karzai's foreign minister until announcing his intention to seek the presidency. Known as a loyalist to former King Zahir Shah, Rassoul has come out in favor of Afghanistan signing a Bilateral Security Agreement with the United States, which would allow for a residual U.S. and NATO force of up to 15,000 soldiers to remain behind after the final withdrawal of international combat troops at the end of December.

President Karzai has so far refused to sign the agreement.

Both Qayyum Karzai and Zalmai Rassoul are ethnic Pashtuns, who dominate the south and the east of Afghanistan. A run at the presidency by both men would have further divided the Pashtun vote.

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