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Donkeys aid Afghan election

MORE than 3,000 donkeys are being mobilized in Afghanistan to help deliver ballots for next month's presidential election, what the top United Nations official there calls the most complicated poll he's ever seen.

Some 17 million registered voters are eligible to vote on August 20 for Afghanistan's next president and provincial council members. But the logistics of setting up polling centers in a country plagued by violence, rugged terrain and a lack of infrastructure has proved challenging.

"These are the most complicated elections I have seen," Kai Eide, the top UN official in Afghanistan, said yesterday while surveying a cavernous hangar where election materials packed and sealed in blue plastic boxes were being loaded onto trucks for delivery to the provinces.

Eide said donkeys will be used to carry ballots to the country's most inaccessible regions, areas that trucks and even helicopters cannot reach. Some 3,171 burros will be loaded with ballots and voting boxes and sent along the steep ridges of the Hindu Kush mountain range, which bisects the middle of Afghanistan.

Another concern is how to hold polls in the turbulent south and east, where United States and British forces fighting the Taliban this month have suffered their highest casualties of the eight-year war.

Of 7,000 polling centers planned across the country, security forces have not yet confirmed whether voting can take place in about 700 of them, said Noor Mohammad Noor, a spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission.

Western officials say that legitimacy of the elections - the third since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001 - may hinge on the ability to hold them in as many areas of the south and east as possible.

The inability of the authorities to secure hundreds of polling centers, coupled with a potential low turnout in provinces mired in war could threaten the legitimacy of the poll in the eyes of many Afghans.


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