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More Afghan polls closed amid security worry

Fear of violence follows threats against voters

By Dusan Stojanovic
Associated Press / September 9, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan election officials said yesterday that scores of additional polling stations will be closed during the Sept. 18 parliamentary vote because of the deteriorating security situation.

The state electoral commission said 81 of the 458 polling stations planned in Nangarhar Province will be shut during the elections “due to deteriorating security conditions.’’ The tense eastern province bordering Pakistan is a center of the Taliban insurgency, with many militants entering the country from safe havens across the border.

Election officials had earlier announced that more than 900 other polling stations would remain shut nationwide because of security concerns, and that 5,897 voting sites would be opened throughout Afghanistan. During last year’s fraud-marred presidential vote, 6,167 voting centers nominally operated.

The government and its foreign partners hope the elections will help consolidate the country’s shaky democracy and political stability, allowing the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country. But many Afghans and international observers fear the vote could turn bloody after the Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.

Security concerns were underscored by an assassination attempt yesterday on the head of Zhari district in turbulent Kandahar Province. It killed one of his bodyguards and wounded several others.

Kareem Jan said Taliban insurgents ambushed his convoy as he was returning to Kandahar city, adding that it was the third attempt on his life since he assumed office in June.

Meanwhile, NATO yesterday reported the death of one of its service members “following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan.’’ It did not provide details of the attack or the nationality of the victim.

The presence of coalition forces and allegations of Pakistani support for the Taliban featured prominently in speeches at a Kabul rally to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the death of legendary anti-Soviet guerrilla Ahmad Shah Massoud. The ethnic Tajik commander was slain by two Al Qaeda members posing as journalists two days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

“We thank the international community, but only Afghans, acting together here on the ground, can solve their own problems,’’ said Massoud’s brother, Ahmad Zia Massoud.

Massoud also accused Pakistan of continuing to support the Taliban insurgency and called for international pressure on Pakistan to hand over Taliban leaders believed to be sheltering in the country’s northwest regions.

Also yesterday, the Taliban’s shadowy leader told Afghans that the insurgents are winning the war and warned Americans that they are wasting lives and billions in tax dollars by continuing in the conflict.

In an end-of-Ramadan message posted on jihadist websites and relayed by the Site Intelligence Group, the Taliban leader also said the Americans and their allies will soon leave the country. He urged his fighters to adhere to his code of conduct and avoid harming civilians, instructions US commanders say the Taliban frequently ignore.

“The victory of our Islamic nation over the invading infidels is now imminent, and the driving force behind this is the belief in the help of Allah and unity among ourselves,’’ Mullah Omar said.

US officials believe Mullah Omar is hiding in Pakistan, despite denials by Pakistani authorities.

Meanwhile, fears over the future of ailing Kabul Bank grew violent yesterday as state police beat back crowds of frustrated Afghan government workers attempting to withdraw their salaries on the final day before a four-day national holiday.

Material from The Washington Post was used in this report.

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