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October 25, 2009

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Taliban warns of violence in attempt to disrupt second poll

Taliban fighters have warned Afghans not to take part in the war-wracked country's upcoming presidential runoff, threatening yesterday to launch a fresh wave of violence on polling day to stop them.

The warnings came on the first official day of campaigning for the November 7 vote. The militant group denounced the race between President Hamid Karzai and challenger Abdullah Abdullah as "a failed, American process" and said its fighters would "launch operations against the enemy and stop people from taking part."

The statement said Taliban militants would also cut off key roads and highways, and warned that anyone who casts a ballot "will bear responsibility for their actions."

Taliban fighters killed dozens of civilians during the first round on August 20, barraging several southern cities with rocket-fire and cutting off the ink-stained fingers of at least two people who cast ballots in the militant south.

Security fears are just one of the challenges election officials face as they scramble to organize a new election amid a swelling Taliban insurgency before the advent of winter, which begin around much of the country around the middle of November, isolating remote villages and cutting off roads with snow.

As campaigning began yesterday, several senior Abdullah campaign officials accused the top three members of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission of bias, saying they should be replaced to ensure the country's upcoming runoff is fair.

A spokesman for the commission, Noor Mohammad Noor, denied the allegations and said it was "impossible" to replace them.

Under intense US pressure, Karzai acknowledged last week that he fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for victory after UN-backed auditors threw out nearly a third of his votes because of massive fraud.

The Afghan Independent Election Commission, dominated by Karzai supporters, is under huge pressure to avoid a repeat of the cheating.

Abdullah's running mate, Houmayoun Asafi, said commission Chairman Azizullah Lodin, Chief Electoral Officer Daoud Ali Najafi, and the commission's deputy director, Zekria Barakzai, were "openly working for Mr Karzai."

"If they are again in charge for the second round, the same thing will happen," Asafi said.


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