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Afghanistan Presidential Election Campaign Officially Opens  - 2004-09-07

In Afghanistan, campaigning for next month's landmark presidential elections has officially begun. The month-long campaign began Tuesday amid warnings of threats to free and fair Afghan elections.

Organizers, however, say that proper security arrangements are in place to ensure the polls are held without major difficulties.

Remnants of Afghanistan's ousted Islamic Taleban government have vowed to disrupt the polls. As part of that campaign they have launched deadly attacks against those involved in the election process. The violence has left at least 12 election workers dead since May.

United Nations officials and Afghan human rights activists have also shown concern that local militia commanders are influencing the electoral process in favor of their candidates.

Filippo Grandi is the U.N.'s deputy special representative for Afghanistan. Among other things, he has expressed concern that a lack of information about the election process and secret ballot could keep voters away. "It is very important to step up the information campaign, stressing in particular that the vote will be secret that the people will be able to vote without others knowing for whom they vote," he says.

There are 18 candidates for the October 9 vote, including transitional President Hamid Karazi, who is considered the favorite to become the first directly elected leader of Afghanistan.

For the campaign, all the candidates are promised equal access to state-run media and special security arrangements are put in place for their election rallies in the provinces. However, candidates have expressed concern that President Karzai has an unfair advantage when it comes to state media resources.

U.N. and Afghan officials say that more than 10 million people have registered to vote in the presidential elections.