KABUL, Afghanistan — A remembrance ceremony devolved into raucous shouting by agitated supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah on Tuesday, only minutes after President Hamid Karzai urged the country's two presidential candidates to reach an agreement on a new national unity government.
Karzai, who has been in power in Afghanistan since shortly after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion, said that his time as president is over and that the country wants a new government. He told the crowd of hundreds of powerbrokers to urge Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to reach a deal to end the country's now five-month-long election process.
Karzai said the two could reach a deal within days and that Afghanistan could have a new government within a week.
Abdullah on Monday announced that he would not accept the expected outcome of the election committee's recount of some 8 million ballots cast in a June runoff, an indication that the official ballot numbers favor Ghani Ahmadzai. The official announcement has been expected to be made this week.
At Tuesday's ceremony honoring a beloved anti-Taliban fighter who was assassinated, a rowdy crowd of men who mostly back Abdullah's campaign gave the candidate an opportunity to play the role of statesman during the nationally televised ceremony. But the effort failed.
When Sibghatullah Mojaddedi — a former Afghan president and current Ghani Ahmadzai supporter — rose to speak, many at the ceremony shouted him down. Abdullah bounded up to the podium and reminded his supporters that on Monday he had requested the country to remain peaceful Tuesday, a national holiday honoring Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was killed two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.
Despite Abdullah's plea, the shouts kept raining down, and an agitated Mojaddedi left the podium without speaking. The proceedings closed down unceremoniously shortly afterward.
Abdullah and Ghani Ahmadzai walked into the tent — in reality a large conference room — alongside Karzai, but the two did not acknowledge each other. At one point they stood face-to-face only three feet apart but did not make eye contact.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged the two to conclude an agreement on a national unity accord in line with a commitment the two signed in July.
Ban said both sides share a responsibility "to guide Afghanistan to a peaceful and more prosperous future. Given the scale of the challenges, this can only be done jointly." Ban noted that both candidates have agreed to accept the outcome of the election count.
U.S. pressure on the candidates has yielded no breakthrough. President Barack Obama spoke with both over the weekend and urged them to quickly form a national unity government. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has made two trips to Afghanistan the last two months.
The international community had hoped for a smooth transition of power as most foreign forces withdraw by the end of the year. The U.S. wants the next Afghan president to quickly sign a security agreement to allow some 10,000 troops to remain to assist with counterterrorism operations and training Afghan forces.