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Afghan President Registers for Re-election Before US Visit

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has registered as a candidate for re-election on August 20. But as the war-torn country prepares for the crucial poll, fresh insurgent attacks in southern and eastern parts of the country have left at least 27 people dead, most of them civilians.

Speaking to reporters shortly after appearing before the Independent Election Commission in Kabul to sign up for the upcoming polls, President Hamid Karzai promised to bring peace and security to Afghanistan. He was flanked by his two running mates, Vice President Karim Khalili and former Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

President Karzai says he has decided to stand for re-election to serve for the welfare and interest of the people of Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai comes from Afghanistan's largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, while his running mates, Khalili and Fahim represent Hazara and Tajik minorities respectively.

Other candidates have until Thursday to register. But the opposition is still struggling to name a candidate with a broad enough support to challenge Mr. Karzai. One of his possible rivals, Governor Agha Sherzai, with backing from among Pashtun tribes in the south, withdrew from the race Saturday in Karzai's favor.

President Karzai has led the country since U.S backed foreign forces ousted Taliban from power in late 2001. He won Afghanistan's first democratic presidential vote in 2004.

But since then his popularity has declined. This is mainly because civilian casualties caused by international military forces while attacking insurgents have increased and corruption in his administration remains unchecked.

Fresh Taliban attacks on Monday left at least 27 people dead, raising security concerns before the presidential election.

The United States plans to increase its forces in Afghanistan this year to fight the Taliban insurgency and to ensure security during the presidential election. The Taliban have rejected the Afghan elections as a process to promote U.S interests in the region.

But as part of his effort at political reconciliation, President Karzai has repeatedly called for engaging moderate Taliban elements to bring them into the mainstream politics.

U.N special envoy for Afghanistan Kai Eide this week urged opposition forces to take part in the upcoming election. He says this will encourage and strengthen reconciliation efforts aimed at bringing political stability to the war-torn country.

"I believe that the opposition should know that those who wish to take part in the elections and respect the constitution should have an open door to be able to do that. I do not underestimate the difficulties, but I think it is important to stretch out a hand and say it is better that we compete at the ballot boxes than that we fight in the battle field," said Eide.

Shortly after signing up for the August 20 election, President Karzai left for Washington to meet President Barack Obama for the first time since the U.S leader's inauguration. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari will also attend the talks. Rising militancy in the mountainous region on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is expected to be the focus of discussions.