Afghanistan’s chief electoral officer resigns

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghanistan’s chief electoral officer has resigned in a bid to resolve a political crisis over allegations of massive fraud in the runoff presidential vote earlier this month.

Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail told reporters Monday that he denies any involvement in fraud but he is stepping down “for the national interest.”

One of the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah has said his campaign monitors had recorded ballot box stuffing and other irregularities. He suspended cooperation with the vote counting process and demanded Amarkhail be suspended.  The crisis has threatened what Western officials had hoped would be a peaceful transfer of authority.

President Hamid Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

An Afghan official says the Taliban have released 33 university professors and students abducted nearly two weeks ago in the country’s east.

Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni province, says the hostages were released overnight and early on Monday, following mediation by tribal elders in the region and the staff from the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ghazni.

Ahmadi says the 33, most of whom are professors at the Kandahar university, were on their way to the Afghan capital, Kabul, earlier this month when their bus was stopped by the Taliban in the province’s Qarabagh district.

The Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, confirmed the release of the 33 in a statement to media. He didn’t say if a ransom was involved or provide details.

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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