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U.S. says not playing favourites in Afghan poll

Richard Holbrooke, special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, speaks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo April 18, 2009. REUTERS/Issei Kato

TOKYO (Reuters) - The United States has no preferred candidate in the presidential election in Afghanistan this year, a top U.S. envoy said on Saturday, stressing the importance of a fair and open poll.

About half a dozen politicians have expressed their intention to stand in the August 20 election against President Hamid Karzai.

Western leaders have grown increasingly impatient with Karzai who has ruled Afghanistan since 2002, saying his failure to crack down on rampant corruption and the drugs trade and to govern effectively is fueling the Taliban insurgency

“It’s no secret that perhaps the international community had its favorites in the previous elections, but we are neither supporting nor opposing any candidate this time round, and that includes the president of Afghanistan, if he chooses to run for re-election, as seems very probable,” Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, told a news conference.

“It is a major event for Afghanistan and all of us in the international community and all of us in Afghanistan are focused on helping Afghanistan hold a free, and fair and open election on a level playing field.”

The election is seen as the defining test of progress this year in Afghanistan, where violence is surging dispute the presence of 70,000 foreign forces, expected to rise to some 90,000 by the time the poll is held.

Holbrooke was speaking to reporters in Tokyo where donors agreed to provide more than $5 billion (3.4 billion pounds) in fresh aid to Pakistan seen as the central front in the war in Afghanistan. [nSP396470]

Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani