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Afghan blast kills 2, including U.N. election worker

From Richard Roth
CNN Senior U.N. Correspondent


UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Two people were killed, including an Afghan U.N. worker, and several others were wounded Wednesday in an explosion at a mosque in southeastern Afghanistan where voters were being registered for coming elections, U.N. officials said.

Jean Arnault, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, condemned the "callous attack" in the village of Belal Kheil, in the country's Ghazni province, south of Kabul.

An Afghan staff member working for the United Nations died in the explosion, along with a person believed to have been registering to vote. Two other election workers were seriously wounded and taken to the military hospital at Bagram, near Kabul, U.N. officials in New York said.

Another five people suffered less serious wounds and were treated locally.

Previous attacks on election workers have been blamed on remnants of Afghanistan's former rulers, the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban militia, and members of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The violence has forced Afghan leaders to postpone planned presidential elections until October, and parliamentary races have been pushed back until April 2005.

More than 6 million voters have registered since December, U.N. officials say. But the world body says fewer than half of the eligible voters in 19 of the country's 34 provinces have registered.

Interim Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked the NATO alliance to send more troops to ensure safe elections. The United States has doubled its contingent in Afghanistan, with about 20,000 American troops there now, and Spain has proposed boosting the number of its troops there from fewer than 500 to about 1,000.

Earlier Wednesday, the international relief organization Médecins Sans Frontières -- Doctors Without Borders -- announced it was leaving Afghanistan after 24 years because conditions are no longer safe for aid workers. (Full story)

MSF blamed the Afghan government for failing to catch and prosecute attackers who killed five MSF workers earlier this year.

The group also blamed the Taliban, who have specifically threatened its aid workers, and U.S.-backed coalition troops, which MSF said had "blurred" the image of aid workers as they attempted to "win hearts and minds."

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