Deadly violence rocks Afghanistan as campaign season ends

Kandahar (Afghanistan) (AFP) –


Candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election pushed their messages for the last time Wednesday as campaigning for weekend polls wrapped up amid deadly violence.

The bloodshed that has marred the election since day one showed no sign of abating, with fresh blasts targeting the campaign offices of President Ashraf Ghani, including one late Tuesday that killed a local journalist.

Fears also abound for a repeat of the last presidential poll, in 2014, which was beset by allegations of systematic fraud.

After two days of no campaigning on Thursday and Friday, Afghans head to the polls Saturday to decide whether Ghani -- who was elected in 2014 -- should be awarded a second term.

Eighteen names appear on the ballot but the only other candidate thought to have a chance is Ghani's main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's "chief executive" who was awarded the role after 2014's bitter election.

Both contenders and their running mates held rallies across Afghanistan on Wednesday.

Saturday's poll was initially slated to take place in April, but was twice delayed because election workers were not prepared, and the US was leading a push to forge a withdrawal agreemnent with the Taliban.

That deal has been scuppered for now after US President Donald Trump pulled out.

Many Afghans have said they will boycott Saturday's elections, saying their votes won't be fairly counted.

Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) tried to reassure voters.

"We are fully prepared to the hold the presidential election. All the technical and other preparations have been taken," said IEC chairwoman Hawa Alam Nuristani.

"I assure the people that our work in the election commissions will be sincere and impartial."

- Journalist killed -

The first day of campaigning two months ago saw the Taliban target Ghani's running-mate Amrullah Saleh in an attack that killed 20 people.

Bloody attacks have rocked Afghanistan on a near daily basis, including a Taliban bombing at a Ghani rally last week that killed at least 26 people in the central province of Parwan near Kabul.

On Wednesday, officials said an Afghan journalist wounded by a roadside bomb as he headed home from work Tuesday had died.

Abdul Hamid Hotaki, a news presenter for a local radio station in Kandahar, was caught by a blast near a Ghani campaign office, provincial spokesman Baheer Ahmadi told AFP.

Three other people -- including a child -- died, Afghanistan's interior ministry said, blaming the Taliban for the bombing.

Also Wednesday, another blast hit a Ghani campaign office in Lashkar Gah in the southern province of Helmand, wounding at least three people, the local police chief spokesman said.

Neither blast was immediately claimed by the Taliban, though the insurgents have previously warned Afghans not to vote and said their fighters would target election campaigns as well as polling stations.

Afghanistan is considered one of the world's deadliest places for journalists.

At least 15 Afghan journalists and media workers were killed in 2018, making it the deadliest year for the country on record, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

AFP's chief photographer in Afghanistan, Shah Marai, was among 25 people killed along with eight other journalists in a bomb attack in April 2018.

Meanwhile in Taloqan city, capital of northeastern Takhar province, security officials said Wednesday they had detained a teenaged would-be suicide bomber who had planned to carry out an attack at a polling station on election day.