Karzai Rivals Concede Afghan Election

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Hamid Karzai's (search) chief rivals in Afghanistan's presidential election conceded defeat Thursday, a day after the U.S-backed interim leader was declared the winner.

Yunus Qanooni (search), who finished second with 16 percent compared to Karzai's 55 percent, said he would accept the result of the Oct. 9 ballot, despite lingering accusations of fraud.

"For me, Afghanistan's national interests are the most important," Qanooni said at a news conference. "If we didn't accept the result, the country would go toward a crisis."

Ethnic Hazara chieftain Mohammed Mohaqeq (search) and the running mate of ethnic Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum also said they would recognize Karzai as president.

Qanooni, who served as interior minister and education minister in the interim government led by Karzai since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, has insisted Karzai owed his victory to cheating.

An independent panel was called in to probe the fraud allegations after most of Karzai's 17 challengers threatened not to recognize the results.

A boycott could have undermined Karzai's chances of extending his authority across a country still riven with factional and ethnic tensions, and soured the atmosphere for parliamentary elections slated for the spring.

However, the panel ruled on Wednesday that the irregularities couldn't have changed the result.

Qanooni repeated his charge that the vote was tainted by "well-organized" fraud in favor of Karzai, but offered his congratulations nonetheless.

"I wish Karzai success," he said.

Mohaqeq, who finished third, said he planned to accept the result formally once he had explained his decision to his supporters.

Chafiga Habibi, Dostum's vice-presidential candidate, said his camp would recognize the outcome "for the sake of peace."