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Afghanistan braces for poll test


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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Election officials in Afghanistan have announced the start of nationwide campaigning for the troubled nation's October 9 presidential election.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), which includes representatives of the United Nations and Afghanistan, said the campaigning would end on October 7.

A senior U.N. official, Filippo Grandi, said he was pleased with the registration of voters and the nominating of presidential candidates.

There are 10.5 million Afghan registered to vote, including 4.3 million women.

Voters will have a field of 18 candidates to choose from, including the current president, Hamid Karzai.

Grandi noted that the group of candidates is varied, representing different political points of view, ethnicities and genders.

But Grandi also expressed some concerns, citing problems with intimidation, "local pressure" and a lack of information.

He suggested all parties "who have a stake in the process" come together to rectify the problems.

He also advised the JEMB, the United Nations, the candidates, and the government to step up efforts to inform voters, urge "respect for the electoral process," particularly within the government, and continue disarming.

He also asked the international community to fulfill commitments for pledged donations and observers.

Despite the problems, he noted that a "trend has begun definitely" and emphasized that "the high number of people registering for election shows support and enthusiasm on the part of the Afghan public."

Karzai, who has the strong backing of the United States and the West, is seen as favorite to win the poll, but rivals may force him into a run-off.

Taliban guerrillas have vowed to disrupt the election, which U.S. President George W. Bush hopes to see go smoothly ahead of his own election show-down in early November.

Bush sent U.S. forces into Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the hardline Islamic Taliban regime after it refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks.

Security has been an overriding concern.

Close to 1,000 people, including security forces, militants, election workers, aid workers and civilians, have been killed in a campaign of violence over the past 12 months.

The violence continues despite the efforts of an 18,000-strong U.S.-led force hunting the militants.

Both the presidential and parliamentary polls were due to be held last June, but were delayed due to security and logistical concerns.

Parliamentary elections were put off until next April.


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