Afghan president vows Taliban insurgents will not wreck election

TALIBAN fighters will not wreck Afghanistan’s presidential election today, President Hamid Karzai said last night, after fighters clashed with police in the centre of Kabul and threatened to shut the country’s roads.

“I hope that [today] our countrymen, millions of them will come and vote for country’s stability, for the country’s peace, for the country’s progress,” Karzai said after a small ceremony for the country’s Independence Day holiday.

“Enemies will do their best, but it won’t help.”

Earlier yesterday, gunmen stormed a bank building in central Kabul and battled police for hours in what the Taliban said was one of many attacks it had planned for the capital.

The brazen early morning raid was the third major attack in Kabul in five days, shattering the calm in a city which had been secure for months but is now tense and dotted with checkpoints.

Polls show Karzai leading but likely to fall short of the outright majority needed to avoid an October run-off, after his main challenger, ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, ran a stronger than expected campaign.

Violence could raise the chance of a run-off by suppressing turnout in southern areas where Karzai draws his support – or even jeopardise the legitimacy of the poll altogether.

In southern Kandahar province, Karzai’s home and the birthplace of the Taliban, two election workers were killed in a bomb blast, an election official said.

Fearing more election-related violence, officials in Kandahar city said they would close roads to normal traffic for today’s poll, allowing only election workers and observers, vehicles transporting voters, and the media to travel freely.

The United Nations asked the government to lift adecree ordering a blackout of foreign and domestic media coverage of any violence during the polls. The government says it ordered the blackout so Afghans won’t be frightened away.

In a statement on a Taliban website the Islamist group said 20 suicide bombers had infiltrated the capital, preparing attacks to thwart the election.

Another statement said the militants were closing roads countrywide.

“The mujahideen will bear no responsibility for whoever gets hurt,” it said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said five gunmen, some wearing bomb vests, carried out yesterday’s Kabul raid, which follows a pattern of similar recent strikes in southern towns.

Police said three fighters were involved. Security forces took reporters into a nearby compound and showed them the bullet-riddled bodies of three fighters killed in the clash.

The raid came a day after a suicide car bomber killed eight people in the capital, the second such strike in four days. Such attacks had been common in the south, but had not taken place in comparatively secure Kabul for months.

In the run-up to the poll, Karzai has alarmed Western donors by lining up endorsements from former militia chieftains whose armed factions once held sway. One of the most controversial, Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, returned from exile on Sunday night and held a giant rally on behalf of Karzai on Monday.

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