AFGHANISTAN

UN chief condemns Kabul attack

At least five UN staff members were killed in a guesthouse Wednesday, as Taliban carried out coordinated attacks in Kabul as part of their pledge to disrupt the upcoming presidential elections.

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United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed outrage Wednesday at a series of Taliban-coordinated attacks that killed six United Nations officials in Kabul on Wednesday. The UN chief, however, said the attack would not deter the world body from pursuing its work in the country.

"I condemn in the strongest possible terms the despicable and brutal killing, for which the Taliban have claimed responsibility in an apparent effort to disrupt the second round of the presidential election," he said.

The second round of the country’s presidential election is set for November 7.

Taliban militants launched nearly simultaneous attacks on a UN guesthouse and a luxury hotel in central Kabul, carrying out previous threats of escalating violence against foreigners in Afghanistan. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said it was the "first step" in a campaign to disrupt the November 7 run-off vote.

At dawn, three heavily armed Taliban suicide gunmen, reportedly dressed as policemen, stormed the Bekhtar guesthouse in the residential district of Shar-e-Now that houses many UN staff members, killing five UN foreign staff, making this the deadliest attack on the international organisation in the war-torn country since 2001. Two Afghan security personnel were also killed, and a charred, unidentified body was found in one of the rooms, bringing the total death toll to nine.

By 8:30 local time, the three gunmen had been shot dead by police after a lengthy gun battle.

Meanwhile, a separate rocket attack was launched on the luxury Serena hotel, popular with diplomats and foreign businessmen. The hotel guests were reportedly guided to safety in underground bunkers and no casualties were reported.

Electoral violence

The Taliban immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks. “This is the first step. As we have warned, we will disrupt the second round of elections,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujaheh told AFP.

“The Taliban will probably succeed in what they are aiming for: to paralyse the capital and disrupt the organisation of the November 7 poll,” Luc Mathieu, the Kabul correspondent for French daily Libération, told FRANCE 24. “There is likely to be a tight security lockdown on foreigners in Kabul after this, and since the second round of election very much depends on the assistance of foreigners, that is bound to be a setback.”

Western military officers insist they can ensure the November 7 poll, a run-off between incumbent president Hamid Karzai and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, is conducted in a peaceful atmosphere. But Wednesday’s violent warning from the Taliban threatens to further deflate voter turnout, which was less than 40 percent in the first round on August 20.

Almost 200 violent incidents around the first vote were attributed to the Taliban, including amputations of fingers marked with purple ink as proof of voting, and rocket and grenade attacks on polling stations.

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