September 13, 2014 / 12:22 PM / in 3 years

U.N. threatens to cut Afghanistan aid if election staff harassed

KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations threatened on Saturday to cut aid to Afghanistan if its staff are harassed, responding to tensions surrounding its participation in a drawn-out and bitter investigation into fraud in the still-unresolved presidential election.

An Afghan election worker carries a ballot box to be counted for an audit of the presidential run-off in Kabul August 27, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

The warning came a day after dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the Kabul headquarters of the world body and accused it of aiding vote-rigging.

It was another sign of heightened anxiety in the run-up to the release of final election results over the next week. A two-month-long crisis over results of the vote to succeed President Hamid Karzai has been destabilizing Afghanistan just months before most international troops withdraw.

The U.N. has been monitoring a vote-rigging investigation since both candidates - former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani - each claimed victory and accused the other of fraud in early July.

U.N. workers have frequently been caught up in heated disputes by the rival candidates’ audit observers. After Friday’s small demonstration, which was peaceful but also featured chants of “Death to the U.N.,” the world body apparently decided to draw a line.

“Intimidation and verbal attacks directed at #UN are unacceptable,” said a tweet by the official U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan on Saturday.

A second post continued: “If such abuse continues, #UN will be forced to severely limit its activities, reducing its assistance to #Afghanistan and its people.”

Ari Gaitanis, a U.N. spokesman in Kabul, declined to elaborate on specific abuse or threats against U.N. staff.

The threat to cut aid underscored the high stakes in Afghanistan’s election crisis, which marred hopes for a smooth transition of power ahead of the foreign troops’ withdrawal.

Talks between both sides on forming a unity government have broken down in recent weeks.

Final results are expected in the next week, though a specific date has not been set. It is widely believed that Ghani, who was ahead by 1.2 million votes in preliminary results, will be declared the winner even after suspect votes are thrown out.

Abdullah, who has charged that more than 2 million ballots were fraudulent, has vowed he will reject results that give the election to Ghani.

Reporting by Kay Johnson; Editing by Mark Potter

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