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Presidential Election Campaigning Begins in Afghanistan

Afghanistan has begun its two-month campaign season for a presidential election to decide who will lead the country for the next five years.

The campaign period opened Tuesday and will close on August 18, two days before the vote.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is facing 40 challengers to his bid for a second term.

While Mr. Karzai is in Russia Tuesday for a regional conference, his supporters and other political workers marked the first official day of campaigning by hanging banners and colorful posters in the capital, Kabul. However in the southern city Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold, there were no public displays of political campaigning.

A worsening Taliban insurgency and charges of government corruption have weakened Mr. Karzai's image at home and abroad.

A new poll conducted by a U.S.-based group indicates fewer than one-third of Afghans support his re-election.

The findings from the International Republican Institute show only 31 percent of Afghans said they would vote for Mr. Karzai - down from the 54 percent support he received in his 2004 election. Fewer than half of those surveyed said the Afghan leader's performance warranted re-election.

Although the poll indicates Mr. Karzai's support has diminished, researchers predict he will still outperform his competitors.

The survey shows former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has the support of seven-percent of voters while former finance minister Ashraf Ghani has about three-percent support. Both men had been part of President Karzai's Cabinet and are expected to be leading challengers to his re-election bid.

Abdullah and Ghani are among the contenders who have started campaigning.

The International Republican Institute says it is a "nonpartisan organization" that "advances freedom and democracy worldwide." Most of its funding comes from the U.S. government. The group says its findings are based on a May poll of 3,200 Afghans.

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