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May 1, 2013

Bahraini Sheik replaces bin Hammam

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain was elected president of the Asian Football Confederation on Thursday, replacing longtime rival Mohamed bin Hammam.

Sheik Salman comprehensively beat bin Hammam allies Yousuf al-Serkal of the United Arab Emirates and Thailand's Worawi Makudi in voting by 46 member federations.

Sheik Salman received 33 votes on the first ballot, two more than needed for outright victory. Makudi got seven votes and al-Serkal six.

The Bahraini royal was elected despite criticism since 2011 that he didn't do enough to protect national team players from human rights abuses during pro-democracy protests.

Sheik Salman gets 20 months in office to complete bin Hammam's presidential mandate. The next scheduled election is in January 2015, ahead of the Asian Cup staged in Australia.

Sheik Salman also won the vote for the vacant seat on FIFA's executive committee, inflicting a stunning defeat on Qatar World Cup organizing chief Hassan Al Thawadi, taking 28 votes against 18 for his rival.

When Sheik Salman's presidential vote tally was announced first, his supporters' cheers in the ballroom of a Kuala Lumpur hotel drowned out the announcement of his rivals' totals.

Thursday's election formally replaced Qatari official bin Hammam, who FIFA expelled from football for alleged corruption.

Sheik Salman's victory comes exactly four years after bin Hammam suffered a setback in the same city, which precipitated his rapid fall from power. Then, bin Hammam retained his FIFA board seat by just two votes after a bitterly fought contest marred by accusations of vote-buying on both sides, plus undue influence on the Bahraini's behalf by Olympic officials across Asia.

This election saw similar sniping. The Kuwaiti head of the Olympic Council of Asia, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, was seen as a key figure in Sheik Salman's camp, alleging bin Hammam broke the terms of his FIFA ban by lobbying for his friends.

To increase transparency Thursday, the 46 voters wrote their ballots in open booths on the main stage.

Since FIFA first suspended bin Hammam in May 2011 for alleged election bribery, Chinese official Zhang Jilong had served as interim AFC leader.

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