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Friday, October 08, 2004

BBC > First votes cast in Afghan poll

Afghans are voting to choose their president in what is the country's first mass democratic poll.
The favourite is the interim President, Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the fall of the hard-line Islamic Taleban nearly three years ago.
The first vote was cast by an Afghan refugee in neighbouring Pakistan, where voting opened slightly earlier.
"I am very happy," said 19-year-old Moqadasa Sidiqi, after she voted in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
The Taleban has vowed to disrupt the polls, in which more than 10 million names have been registered to vote.
More than 100,000 Afghan and international security personnel have been put on high alert for the poll.
Many Afghans hope the election will bring an end to the rule of the gun, provide national unity and encourage the flow of further international aid.
In Kabul, there were queues outside polling stations before voting began at 0700 (0230GMT).
Security has been the leading concern in the run-up to the election, seriously curtailing campaigning, which ended on Wednesday.
However, a spokesman for the Nato-led peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, Commander Ken MacKillop said: "Everyone is optimistic that the election will carry forth.
"We have been working very closely with the Afghan police and army to make sure the security environment... is as safe as possible."
Eighteen candidates are standing for president, and votes will be cast at about 25,000 polling stations in 5,000 locations across the country.
Some 740,000 Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan are expected to vote, as well as another 600,000 in Iran.
In addition to high security, human rights groups have warned that voters may be intimidated.
There will be few independent observers at polling stations.
Voting is scheduled to finish at 1600 local time (1130GMT) in Afghanistan, but could be extended if there is a large turnout and people still wish to vote.
Ballot boxes will then be sealed and transported to eight regional counting centres.
In this mountainous country, some will have to be taken by helicopter.
Initial results are expected in the coming days but it may take a couple of weeks for all the votes to be counted.
Interim President Hamid Karzai is widely tipped to win, although Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik former education minister Yunus Qanuni have fought high-profile campaigns.
Correspondents say it is unclear how much impact the election will have on Afghanistan's future.
Much will depend on how the country's various power brokers react to the result and how far the victor is prepared to challenge the political status quo in a country that is sometimes described as a series of mini-fiefdoms.
Jalalabad arrests
On Friday officials in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar said they had intercepted a tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel and packed with explosives.
If detonated, they say it could have killed hundreds of people.
Afghan troops blocked the road leading from Kandahar to the border town of Spin Boldak after the truck was found to have explosives packed in its tyres.
"It is obvious that their main goal was to detonate the truck in Kandahar city," an Afghan army commander said.
Three Pakistanis were arrested, the Nato spokesman said.
Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the provincial Kandahar government, said the Taleban had attacked Afghan troops in Kandahar's district of Khakrez district, on Thursday.
Three insurgents were killed and six wounded, he said.
In another incident, in southern Helmand province, four soldiers died and four were hurt when Afghan troops and militiamen loyal to the government mistakenly engaged in an hour-long gun battle on Thursday.
Early on Friday, a rocket also landed close to the main headquarters of international peacekeepers in Kabul.
Mr Karzai's vice-presidential running mate Ahmed Zia Massood survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday.
Story from BBC NEWS: /pr/fr/-/2/hi/south_asia /3727324.stm

Published: 2004/10/09 03:29:40 GMT


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