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Rights Group: Violence Threatens Upcoming Afghan Poll

An international rights group says Afghanistan's upcoming parliamentary elections are at risk of being "severely compromised" because of insurgent attacks on candidates and poor government security.

Human Rights Watch in a report issued Thursday said candidates in the September 18 election face assassinations, kidnappings, and intimidation by insurgents and rival candidates, with women candidates facing the highest threat.

The group said candidates, members of parliament and election officials have expressed concerns that security problems and corruption may have worsened since the presidential and provincial polls held a year ago, which were widely criticized for alleged fraud.

Afghan election officials on Wednesday said about 15 percent of the planned polling stations in the country will not be open due to security concerns. Officials said 81 of 458 polling stations in northeastern Nangarhar province would be closed.

That is in addition to more than 900 polling centers, mainly in the east and south, that officials earlier said would not open because they are in dangerous areas.

The officials said voters in areas where polling centers have closed could cast their ballot at other, safer centers, although they may have to travel through insurgent-held areas.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the vote and urged an election boycott.

Taliban leader Mullah Omar said Wednesday in a statement marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that his fighters are close to victory in driving out foreign forces from Afghanistan. The statement's authenticity could not be verified.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.