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    Taliban Reportedly Cut Off Fingers of 2 Voters

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    An Afghan election monitoring group says Taliban insurgents have made good on their threat to chop off ink-stained fingers of voters. Meanwhile, international observers are rendering a tentative verdict on the electoral process, calling Thursday's balloting generally positive and democratic. 

    Two voters in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, where there is a significant Taliban presence, had their ink-stained fingers chopped off by insurgents. The head of the country's Free and Fair Election Foundation, Nader Nadery, tells VOA his group's observers reported that the two men were attacked by the Taliban on Election Day.

    The report came as key international monitors are rendering a tentative assessment of the election process.

    The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute says aspects of the election "were in accordance with democratic principles." But there were serious flaws that must be addressed before future elections.

    NDI president Kenneth Wollack was asked if his organization, which has monitored 200 elections worldwide, could consider the elections in Afghanistan to have been free and fair.

    "We have seen too many elections around the world and it is why we reserve a final assessment to an end of a process not as the process is still unfolding," he said.

    Allegations of voting irregularities are widespread and international monitors acknowledge they were not able to observe firsthand what took place in many provinces because of poor security.

    The European Union monitoring mission says the violence and intimidation prevented a free election in some parts of the country. It notes turnout was considerably higher in the North where challenger Abdullah Abdullah draws support from Tajiks, but particularly low in the South, a Pashtun stronghold of incumbent President Hamid Karzai.

    One of the American observers, former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, praises the millions of voters who defied what he calls " a small group of cowardly people in the shadows who hate democracy."

    "I know of few, if any, mature democracies in the world where faced with the threat of violence and violence itself that turnout for the voters would have been higher than it was here Thursday," he said.

    The election camps of both President Karzai and challenger Abdullah are claiming their candidates are heading to victory, capturing enough votes to avoid a runoff election. However election officials say tabulations have not been completed and are preliminary.  Partial results will not be announced before Tuesday. It may be weeks before full, official voting totals are released.

    A successful and credible election - with the losers peacefully accepting the outcome -  is deemed crucial for Afghanistan. The country is battling an insurgency with the help of 100 thousand foreign troops. Billions of dollars in aid have poured into Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 ousted the Taliban from power.


    Steve Herman

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

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