Violence mars run-up to Afghan election

Posted in Broader Middle East | 16-Aug-04 | Author: Declan Walsh| Source: Guardian

Governor of western Afghanistan's Herat city Ismael Khan.
Gunbattles claimed 27 lives in Afghanistan at the weekend as preparations continued for October's presidential election.

At least 21 fighters died during battles featuring tanks and artillery between militias of the powerful governor Ismail Khan and local rivals in the western province of Herat. Fighting was quelled by US-trained Afghan army troops yesterday afternoon.

To the south Taliban insurgents attacked an outpost 40 miles from Kandahar in the early hours, killing six government soldiers.

The violence highlighted security fears for the historic October 9 poll, which pits the interim president, Hamid Karzai, against 22 opponents. He is widely expected to win.

Afghans appear to have embraced the poll. By the time the voters' roll closed yesterday almost 10 million had registered, exceeding most estimates. A UN spokesman hailed the figure as a sign of enthusiasm for democracy, but analysts fear it could signal double-voting or other forms of vote rigging.

Violence and intimidation, however, pose the greatest threat to the polls. A string of bombings and attacks have so far claimed the lives of 30 election workers and voters.