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3rd-place finisher backs former foreign minister in run-off for Afghan presidency

| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 8:39 p.m.

KABUL, Afghanistan — Former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah received a boost in the race for the Afghan presidency on Sunday when one of the pre-election favorites dropped out and backed his team before next month's expected run-off.

Zalmay Rassoul, who finished third in April's first round with 11.5 percent of the vote, said he endorsed Abdullah to strengthen national unity and because the pair campaigned on similar platforms.

Preliminary results showed Abdullah and his closest rival, former World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, sharing more than 75 percent of the vote but neither winning an absolute majority.

On Wednesday, the Afghan election commission will announce official first-round results from the election, in which President Hamid Karzai was constitutionally barred from running again.

Evidence of widespread fraud reported by the country's Independent Election Complaints Commission has taken the gloss off the third presidential poll since U.S.-led forces drove the Taliban from power in 2001.

The vote marks the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

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