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WASHINGTON - Former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday he fled his country last month for the United Arab Emirates to avoid bloodshed in the streets of the capital of Kabul as Taliban insurgents took control. He denied plundering government funds as he left.
"I left at the urging of palace security, who advised me that to remain risked setting off the same horrific street-to-street fighting the city had suffered during the civil war of the 1990s," Ghani said in a statement. "Leaving Kabul was the most difficult decision of my life, but I believed it was the only way to keep the guns silent and save Kabul and her 6 million citizens."
The 72-year-old Ghani said he had worked for 20 years to create a democratic government in Afghanistan but acknowledged he had failed to ensure "stability and prosperity," the same outcome as for other Afghan governments for decades.
The UAE said it welcomed Ghani "on humanitarian grounds."
Ghani said he would offer a more detailed explanation for his abrupt August 15 departure in the "near future," but said he "must now address baseless allegations that as I left Kabul, I took with me millions of dollars belonging to the Afghan people."
Russia's RIA news agency reported he fled Kabul with four cars and a helicopter full of cash and had to leave some money behind as it would not all fit in. Other news agencies reported he allegedly took $169 million from government coffers, an accusation also made by Afghanistan's ambassador to Tajikistan.
"These charges are completely and categorically false," Ghani said in his statement.
He said he and his wife "have been scrupulous in our personal finances" and that he has publicly declared all his assets. Ghani said he would welcome a United Nations review of his finances or other independent audit.
Afghanistan's TOLO news channel released a clip of an interview to be aired Wednesday night local time with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in which a correspondent asked him: "Did you help President Ghani flee the country?"
Blinken replied, "What he told me in that conversation the night before he fled is that he was prepared to fight to the death."
Ayaz Gul contributed to this report