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September 15, 2010

Taliban Threatens Violence During Afghan Vote

The Taliban is repeating its threat of violence during Saturday's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

The militant group said Thursday it plans to attack polling stations throughout the country and urged Afghans to boycott the elections. More than 10 million people are eligible to vote.

Nearly 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or wolesi jirga.

Insurgents have already killed at least three candidates and several campaign workers in the run-up to the September 18 vote.

Amnesty International said Thursday that female candidates are at particular risk.  It says some women have told the rights group that local security forces refuse to offer them protection or investigate incidents of violence.

Despite the Taliban threat, Afghan government officials are assuring voters of their safety as they head to the polls.  

More than 250,000 Afghan police and troops will be deployed to protect polling centers.  They will be backed by international troops.

Late Wednesday, a coalition airstrike killed eight militants in northern Kunduz province late Wednesday, according to NATO.  The operation targeted a Taliban commander who NATO says was planning attacks to disrupt Saturday's elections.  Election officials said roughly 15 percent of more than 6,000 polling centers will not open due to poor security.  

A leader of the ethnic Hazara minority, Mohammed Mohaqeq, has accused the Afghan government of deliberately shutting polling stations in relatively safe Hazara-dominated areas in order to swing the vote in favor of other candidates.

Last year's presidential election was marred by allegations of widespread fraud, with one-third of ballots cast for President Hamid Karzai thrown out.  Former Afghan foreign minister and the runner-up in the presidential vote, Abdullah Abdullah, on Thursday urged Afghans to cast their votes in large numbers in order to help prevent fraud.

United Nations envoy Staffan de Mistura acknowledged Saturday's vote would not be perfect, but said it would be an improvement from the presidential poll.

Separately Thursday, NATO said insurgent attacks and a roadside bombing killed three of its service members in southern Afghanistan.

In another incident, NATO says coalition troops in the southern province of Uruzgan shot a protester armed with an AK-47 who was trying to enter a military base.  NATO says the man was among 100 demonstrators throwing stones at coalition forces during a protest against the rumored burning of Qurans.  It was unclear if the man died, because protesters pulled the man away.  NATO said it burned coalition documents the day before.

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