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    Taliban Escalate Attacks on Kabul Two Days Before Presidential Election

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    Eight people died, including two Afghan staff members of the United Nations and at least one foreign soldier, while more than 50 other people were wounded, in the latest wave of Taliban violence around Kabul.  The insurgents, who are vowing to disrupt Thursday's national election, have escalated strikes on the capital and other parts of the country.

    The Taliban attacked in the capital area again Tuesday, attempting to make good on a vow to disrupt this week's presidential election.

    A suicide bomber rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into a supply convoy of foreign forces on a busy highway on the eastern outskirts of Kabul.

    The attack came just hours after a pair of rockets fell harmlessly between the Presidential Palace and the Defense Ministry - the latest targeting of the most secure area of the Afghan capital.

    The latest Taliban suicide bombing took a heavy toll on Afghan civilians, including children.  

    Shopkeeper Jawed Ahmad was nearby. He says the force of the blast collapsed his shop while he was standing inside but he managed to walk away. He says he saw many bodies around his damaged shop.

    In Uruzgan province, officials say, a suicide bomber attacked a polling station, killing four Afghan soldiers and two civilians. And the U.S. military command here says two American soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a bomb in the eastern part of the country.

    A suicide car bomb at the gates of NATO's headquarters here Saturday killed seven people and injured nearly 100.

    The top U.N. official based in the country, Kai Eide, says security is his main concern for election day. He says a lack of security will increase the chances of voting irregularities.

    "There will be irregularities but I do believe that they will not be at the level that will put in doubt the credibility of the elections themselves," he said.

    The chief of the United Nations Assistance Mission is appealing to Afghanistan's 17 million eligible voters to defy the Taliban. He says those who go to the polls will be "voting against violence."

    A similar sentiment is being expressed by U.S. Senator John McCain on a visit here with three of his colleagues.

    The former U.S. Republican Party presidential candidate, condemns the Taliban intimidation of voters.

    "There's very little doubt that the Taliban are doing everything in their power to try to prevent people from voting - threats of cutting someone's hand if they exercise their democratic right," he said.

    In the main contest, the incumbent, Mr. Hamid Karzai, is hoping to fend off several dozen challengers to capture a second five-year term as President.

    Afghanistan's government has declared Thursday a "Day of Peace" for the balloting.

    The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force force has suspended combat operations against the Taliban during the election week.

    Another of the visiting U.S. senators, former Democratic Party vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, says the politicians received a sobering assessment during their tour here from top commanders concerning the fight against the Taliban.

    "This is a difficult and challenging moment. And in some senses looking at the battlefield nationally, the momentum is slightly in the direction of the Taliban. That's what we've heard," he said.

    For the election, some 300,000 Afghan and international troops and police officers, are tasked with protecting 29,000 polling stations, with what the government describes as a four-tier ring of security.


    Steve Herman

    Steve Herman is VOA's Senior Diplomatic Correspondent, based at the State Department.

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