08/20/2009, 00.00
AFGHANISTAN
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Afghans vote amidst threats and hopes

An estimated 17 million voters. But some areas of the country are at risk of attack, and several districts are controlled by the Taliban, opposed to the elections. The atmosphere is fairly quiet, although there have been rocket attacks, without serious consequences. Karzai has already voted and urged his compatriots to do likewise.

Kabul (AsiaNews) - Amidst tight security and fear of the Taliban threat, Afghans began voting this morning to elect their president and provincial representatives. The polling stations were opened at 7 am (local time) and will close at 4 pm. Election results, the second since the multinational invasion of 2001, will be published on August 23.

Approximately 17 million people are eligible to vote in the 6 thousand polling stations, protected by 300 thousand Afghan and foreign soldiers. In recent days, insurgents - the Taliban militia, who are constantly gaining ground in the country - led attacks on Kabul, killing 25 people in two days and threatening all those who go to vote.

In the morning, voting took place peacefully, although in the provinces of Kandahar (south), Ghazni (south), Helmand (south), Nangarhar (east) and Kunar (east), there were rocket attacks, without serious consequences . It is not known how many stations are actually open, because some regions remain under the control of the Taliban. The interior ministry said that around one third of the country is at high risk of attacks and that there will be no polling stations in eight districts that under the Taliban control.

President Hamid Karzai voted this morning, half an hour after the opening of polling stations and urged his compatriots to participate in elections. Many Afghans are disillusioned by politics and by the multinational forces because after years of war there have been few improvements. Many accuse politicians and bureaucrats of corruption.

Others sees the elections as the only possible step toward stabilizing the country.

Opinion polls show great support for the outgoing President Hamid Karzai (about 45%), followed by his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, with 25%. Among the other 39 candidates for the presidency are Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, independent, and Ramazan Bashardost, a former representative of the World Bank, a smart politician, but suspected of corruption.

For the provincial councils voters must choose among 3196 candidates to elect 420 representatives. In order not to influence the electorate, the Afghan government has asked the media not to report on  violence at polling stations, but many Afghans and foreigners, have criticized the proposal.

 
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