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Afghan Rights Group Protests Upcoming Elections - 2004-04-27

Afghan human rights activists rallied outside the U.N. offices in neighboring Pakistan Tuesday, expressing concerns about the current government and the coming elections. The protesters want Islamic fundamentalist leaders out of any powerful office.

The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan, or RAWA, organized the demonstration outside the United Nations office in the Pakistani capital.

Several hundred activists marked the 12th anniversary of the capture of Kabul by Islamic parties in 1992, by denouncing Islamic fundamentalist leaders in Afghanistan, and urging they be banned from the current post-war government and future elections.

The demonstrators chant, 'down with fundamentalism' and 'long live democracy.'

They criticize the international community, and particularly the Untied States, for allowing some former fundamentalist Afghan leaders, with notorious records of abuses against women, to become members of the government led by interim President Hamid Karzai.

The protesters demanded the removal of Defense Minister Mohammad Faheem, Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum and governor of western Herat province, Ismail Khan, so they can be tried for crimes against Afghans.

Ms. Marina, a senior member of RAWA, says these men are undermining efforts to improve human rights and introduce democracy in Afghanistan.

"There must be a change in system, and the fundamentalists must be thrown out," she said. "If we have fundamentalists in power, there cannot be any change."

She says these officials and warlords will try to influence the elections in Afghanistan to remain in power.

However, supporters of President Karzai's government dismiss concerns that democracy will be compromised. Abdul Jabar Naeemi is a member of one of the Islamic fighting factions that ruled Kabul from 1992-1996.

"Our hope is that the next coming elections will be fair enough, will be democratic elections," he said. "I think, with the help of the United Nations, there will be very much progress [toward democracy] and people, they are very much interested to vote and to register."

The United Nations is supervising the historic presidential and parliamentary elections in Afghanistan set for September.