Afghans cast vote amid violence

Taliban hang two people; security forces kill two would-be suicide bombers

Afghans cast vote amid violence

 

Afghan presidential candidate and current President Hamid Karzai casts his vote at a polling station in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday. AP

Even as voting was extended an hour until 5.00 pm, initial reports from witnesses suggested that the turnout was uneven across the country, with higher participation in the relatively peaceful north than in the troubled south. There, insurgents threw up makeshift roadblocks in one area to warn off voters, and in Kandahar, witnesses said, insurgents hanged two people because their fingers were marked with indelible ink used to denote that they had voted. “Taliban threaten people not to vote, but I am coming and using my vote,” said Bakht Muhammad, 24, after he voted in Kandahar.

In Kabul, the Afghan police fought a gunbattle with three men who took over a house overlooking police headquarters in the Kart-e-Now district of the capital, killing two of them and capturing one, police said at the scene as bystanders applauded the officers who had fought the insurgents. The men were suspected of being suicide attackers sent by the Taliban.

The owner of the house, Naser, was leaving to exercise his franchise when gunmen stormed inside. “I went out with my boys to go to the polling station,” he said. “As soon as I got out of my house I saw two armed people enter it.” Naser said the gunmen told him to go away, and he soon witnessed the exchange of gunfire.

A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, told Reuters earlier that three Taliban guerrillas were involved in the shooting, which seemed to be part of a strategy to disrupt an election that is proving tighter than expected.

Polls opened at 7.00 am and in Kandahar, there were few people on the streets after nine rockets were fired. But when the rocket fire eased, people slowly began making their way to the polling stations.

Sharina, a 30-year-old voter in Kandahar, said she was “scared of bombs and suicide bombers, but I have to take all this risk and participate in the election.”
But Bismillah Jan, 30, said he had told his family not to vote. “I am not afraid of the Talibans, but I am afraid of bombs and suicide explosions, so I will not let my family participate in the elections,” he said.

In the province of Wardak, an hour’s drive south of Kabul, there were more security officials than voters at many polling stations after a barrage of six rockets fell just before the polls opened and three more followed soon afterward.

In Kabul, Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for defence ministry, said on television that the voting process was proceeding better than expected. In the southern province of Paktia, he said, two would-be suicide bombers were shot death before they could detonate their explosives. Some 300,000 Afghan security personnel and NATO forces were deployed to guard the polls, he said.

But residents of Kabul said the turnout seemed lower than in previous elections in 2004 and 2005. At one polling station, Mitra Hemat, 24, an election worker, said the turnout was significantly down. “There are very few people,” she said.

The major question at the election, diplomats and analysts said, is whether President Hamid Karzai will succeed in winning over 50 per cent of the vote in the first round, securing a victory, or be pushed into a second round of voting.

A vast field of 34 opponents and a last-minute surge by Abdullah Abdullah, as well as Taliban intimidation in the volatile south, which is Karzai’s base, threatened to chip away at the president’s support.

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