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Taliban threaten violence as Afghans go to the polls

Video by Oliver FARRY , Sonia DRIDI

Text by Leela JACINTO , special correspondent in Kabul

Latest update : 2009-12-02

Afghans go to the polls in the first presidential election organised without foreign supervision since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban, who have threatened attacks against those participating in the vote.

Polls open at 7am local time (GMT+4:30) in Afghanistan’s landmark elections among widespread fears of Taliban attacks as well as electoral irregularities.

This is Afghanistan’s second round of voting since the 2001 fall of the Taliban and the first election to be run by Afghan officials — with United Nations support. Previous elections in 2004 and 2005 were jointly conducted by UN and Afghan officials.

The lead-up to Thursday’s presidential and provincial council elections has been bloody, with Taliban militants conducting spectacular attacks primarily targeted at NATO troops, often in heavily fortified areas of the Afghan capital of Kabul. There have also been several attacks in the restive southern and south-eastern regions during the campaign season.

A media ban on reporting of violence imposed by the Afghan government to avoid scaring the population seems not to be working, with local stations reporting incidents of violence on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Afghan authorities announced a ban on media reports of violence on election day with two decrees, the first barring journalists from reporting any violence in the country between 6 am and 8 pm. The second ordered journalists to stay away from the scenes of any attacks.

The United Nations has asked Afghanistan to lift the ban, saying the Afghan constitution guaranteed a free press.

The Taliban have called for a poll boycott and on Sunday again threatened to attack voting stations on election day.

One leaflet distributed by Taliban in Kandahar city read: “This is to respected residents: that you must not participate in the elections so as not to become a victim of our operations, because we will use new tactics."

On Tuesday, the Taliban reiterated their threat of violence against anyone involved in the elections.

But despite the threat, many Afghans, especially in the more secure urban centres, say they are determined to vote.

“I am voting, definitely, because all Afghan women have the right to vote, whether they are educated or not, whether they are working or at home. We all must vote,” said 27-year-old Mahtab, who, like many Afghans, uses just one name.

All eyes are on the voter turnout — especially in the insurgency-hit provinces during what has been dubbed "one of the world’s most difficult elections".

Afghan election officials have admitted that eight out of the total 364 districts in the country are outside state control and have estimated that 12 percent of voting stations will not open on election day.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Afghanistan’s chief electoral officer, Daoud Ali Najafi, said there will be an attempt to open all polling stations across the country. He conceded that it would be difficult in some regions of the Pashtun belt in southern Afghanisitan, such as Helmand, Paktika and the city of Ghazni.

Around 300,000 Afghan and international troops have been deployed across Afghanistan to try to secure the country so that an estimated 17 million Afghans can vote.

Thursday’s 223-million-dollar exercise in democracy is a critical test for the democratic system put in place in this war-ravaged Central Asian nation following the 2001 US-led invasion.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is widely expected to win the elections, although his main challenger, the former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has led a robust campaign.

Abdullah’s strategy has been to try to ensure that Karzai will not win 50 percent of the vote, forcing a run-off, which, election authorities say, could take place around six weeks later.

Date created : 2009-08-20