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Afghan challenger Abdullah touts new coalition

world Updated: Feb 19, 2010 22:07 IST

Afghan President Hamid Karzai's top political rival on Friday announced the launch of a new coalition to fight for a multi-party system in September's parliamentary election.

"This movement... will be hopefully a new chapter in political life in Afghanistan," said Abdullah Abdullah, the popular presidential challenger in last year's election, announcing his "Coalition for Change and Hope".

"So far the importance of political parties and political movements have been ignored, or obstacles were created," he said, addressing a conference in Paris during a visit on which he was to meet with French politicians.

Abdullah deprived Karzai of outright victory in August's vote but then declined to stand in a second round after massive voting fraud.

Afghanistan last month pushed back the date of the parliamentary vote by four months amid corruption concerns and a fierce insurgency by the Taliban, the Islamist movement ousted by a US-led invasion in 2001.

Abdullah said the new movement would unite various deputies and political parties "throughout" Afghanistan with an agenda including electoral reform and "a more decentralised system" of government for the country.

"We have laid the foundations... It's just the start," he said.

"We have already a bloc of MPs in the current parliament, over 50 people, that will hopefully change in the upcoming parliament with some transparency in the process."

Abdullah said the international community had a role to play to "push" for free and fair elections in September.

In Afghanistan meanwhile a major assault by Afghan, NATO and US forces on militants in the southern province of Helmand entered its seventh day on Friday.

Abdullah said the offensive would only succeed if the allied forces won over civilians.

"Militarily it could be a success but... success means we have people on our side."

He described as "a positive step" the arrest this week of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, said to be the second-in-command of the Afghan Taliban, but warned: "There are many like him."