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Violence mars last day of Afghanistan's presidential election campaign

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Violence marked the last day before the Afghan presidential election in Kandahar province, where Canadians have spent months along with Afghan forces trying to set the conditions for a relatively secure vote.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Violence marked the last day before the Afghan presidential election in Kandahar province, where Canadians have spent months along with Afghan forces trying to set the conditions for a relatively secure vote.

The governor of Registan district and another man were killed by a roadside bomb, and two election officials were killed in a separate roadside bomb in the Spin Boldak region near the border.

But Wednesday's bloodshed was far from startling in the restive province, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban and a region the insurgents have fought bitterly to control.

Elsewhere in the country, a shootout with armed gunmen at a bank in the centre of Kabul was the latest in a series of attacks in recent days that have shattered the relative peace of the capital city.

The eve of the election came on the same day that Afghans celebrated a national holiday honouring their independence from British rule.

Officials at the Independent Election Commission said they expect about 90 per cent of the 7,000 polling centres across the country would be open on Thursday.

In Kandahar, regional electoral officer Abdul Wasi Alkozai said 254 polling centres in the province were expected to open.

"They are all opened and hopefully we will not have any problem," Alkozai told The Canadian Press.

Afghan national army and police "are taking good care of the security everywhere and ISAF forces are ready too for any help any time."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, has announced that international forces would not undertake any offensive operations on election day. Canadian military officials are monitoring the situation.

Taliban insurgents have threatened death or dismemberment to those who go to the polls, but Alkozai said he was "very optimistic" that Afghans would go to the polls.

"I know that they will come for vote," he said. "They will not be pressured by Taliban threats."

Alkozai said that throughout the province, Afghans would be taking it upon themselves to secure the polling centres. The Afghan government earlier announced that they had enlisted election workers, but Alkozai said there are others who are not on the government payroll.

"They are not paid by anyone. They are just working for Afghanistan," he said.

Beyond the threat of insurgent violence, there are concerns about election fraud in what is only the third nationwide election held in Afghanistan - and the first led by Afghans themselves.

Alkozai downplayed that risk but Haji Ahsan, a member of the provincial council, said he was offered 600 votes for 100,000 Pakistani rupees.

"I didn't have money, and even if I had it I would not pay. I need a fair election," he said Wednesday.

Despite the assurances of the election commission, Ahsan said it would be very difficult to hold a safe election. He said one of his campaign organizers was beaten by insurgents.

Ahsan is not alone in worrying about security on election day.

Ghulam Haider Hamidi, the unconventional mayor of Kandahar city known for making surprising statements, said he would not vote.

"For the last three years the security is getting worse, day by day," Hamidi said. "Even a child understands that the election day is not safe."

Yet Hamidi encouraged city residents to go out and vote.

His daughter, Rangina Hamidi, a prominent women's advocate, said she would not vote either.

"My message to the women of Kandahar is this: don't go vote and put yourselves at risk for nothing."

Results from across the vast and rugged country will not be immediately available.

Preliminary results are expected on the weekend, but the final results are not expected for at least two weeks.

 
 
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