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Afghanistan Prepares for General Elections

Afghanistan is preparing to register voters for general elections that are slated for June, 2004. The 11-member body appointed to oversee the electoral process says registration will begin on December 1 and will continue into the middle of next year.

Transitional President Hamid Karzai established the new election body by decree earlier this week. It consists of six Afghan delegates appointed by the president, along with five international members chosen by U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

Under the 2001 agreement that created the current government, general elections must be held by June 2004, although many Afghan and U.N. officials say the country is likely to miss the deadline by at least several months.

The commission's deputy, Afran Abdul-Rahman of Mauritius, issued a special plea Thursday, asking Afghanistan's women to turn out for the registration and voting.

Observers say traditional conservative attitudes towards women in some parts of rural Afghanistan may significantly limit the number of female voters.

Preparation for the election also faces serious security challenges, as insurgent attacks against Afghan and international targets have increased in recent months.

A car bomb exploded Tuesday next to the U.N. headquarters in the southern city of Kandahar, seriously injuring one passerby and lightly wounding two local U.N. workers.

The police are questioning three security officers with the Afghan Interior Ministry, who were guarding the compound at the time of the blast.

U.N. spokesman David Singh noted that the United Nations mission relies entirely on the Afghan government and people for its safety.

"The United Nations has been helping and working with the people of Afghanistan for many years," said Mr. Singh. "We are not armed. We have no protection. Our protection is provided by the government of Afghanistan and, more importantly, by the people of Afghanistan."

Mr. Singh adds that on the same day as the U.N. bombing, a de-mining vehicle belonging to an international relief agency hit an anti-tank mine.

According to local officials, the blast injured two people and took place outside Kandahar along the road to Pakistan.

An investigation is underway to determine whether the mine was recently planted, or was old ordnance left over from Afghanistan's civil war.