Afghanistan Elections Marred by Deadly Attacks

Afghan women wait outside a polling station to cast their ballots for the parliamentary elections in Mazar-e-Sharif, Balkh province, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 18, 2010. (AP Photo/ Mustafa Quraishi)

Afghanistan Elections Marred by Deadly Attacks

At least seven people killed in attacks across the country as Afghans vote in parliamentary elections

A Taliban attack near a polling station in northern Afghanistan today killed seven people as the country votes in parliamentary elections.

Officials said the attack was adjacent to a security outpost in Baghlan province. An Afghan soldier and six pro-government militia died and five people were injured.

There were reports of violence across the country as voters went to the polls, where about 2,500 candidates are contesting 249 seats. A rocket attack was reported in Kabul, another in the southern city of Kandahar and three rockets struck the eastern city of Jalalabad.

Concerns over violence had caused the UN to withdraw staff from the country ahead of the elections.

Previous elections have been marred by violence and widespread fraud. After the presidential election last year more than a third of votes cast for President Hamid Karzai were thrown out as fake.

The government has promised a cleaner election this year but today Reuters reported Afghan voters scrubbing their fingers clean of supposedly indelible ink in an effort to return to cast extra votes. An ink-stained fingertip is meant to mark out those who have already cast ballots in the second parliamentary election since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001.

Karzai has said irregularities were expected. By late morning, election monitors and security forces had uncovered hundreds of fake voter registration cards along with efforts to vote more than once.

Police in Kabul detained a young man who was successfully cleaning his finger outside a polling station.

An angry campaign worker demonstrated how one brand of ink could be removed with little effort. "We have to raise our voice. The black ink doesn't go, but the blue colour disappears. They should all be using the black ink, to accomplish their task properly," said Mohammed Fawad, keeping watch over the poll for one candidate in Kabul.

In western Herat city, voters who complained to officials about anti-fraud measures said they had used bleach to remove the ink. "I voted and you see my finger is washed clean of ink," said Bashir Ahmad, waving his clean digit.

There were other signs of fraud. A campaigner for the candidate Haji Abdul Latif Ahmadzai, in southern Logar province, was caught with 300 fake voter cards, security officials said.

Police said they also detained a man with 500 fake voter registration cards in eastern Jalalabad city.

In southern Helmand province, a spokesman for the provincial governor said the daughter of a female candidate had turned up at a polling station with 1,500 valid voter registration cards and tried to cast ballots on their behalf.

Security is a huge problem in Helmand, where many areas are effectively under Taliban control, and women are often forbidden from travelling to polling stations by their husbands or fathers.

In other unstable parts of the country, the Taliban persuaded many voters to stay home - but may also have given some a better reason for wanting to clean their fingers. In Logar province, just south of Kabul, the Taliban sent out letters, or anonymous warnings posted on village walls, that they would cut off any fingers marked with indelible ink.

"I don't want to go and vote because of the Taliban's intimidation. I don't want to risk my life, just for a candidate," said one Logar resident named Naveed.

Initial results are due to be announced on Wednesday with the final results expected on 31 October.

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