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Blast in Kabul on eve of polls


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KABUL, Afghanistan -- A rocket has exploded near the U.S. military compound in Kabul one day before Afghans vote to elect their president for the first time.

While no casualties or damage were reported in the Friday morning attack, remnants of the hardline Taliban regime have long vowed to disrupt Saturday's poll and have already killed election workers and targeted top government officials.

Kabul and other cities have braced themselves for attacks from the Taliban fighters and their allies in the run-up to the election -- the first since U.S.-led forces ousted the regime almost three years ago.

The country's interim president Hamid Karzai who himself has been targeted and is the frontrunner among 18 candidates, has told CNN he is confident the vote will be held successfully this weekend.

"The Afghan people see this as their chance to build a better future, to take this country forward," Karzai told CNN.

"I hope those [security] preparations will be somehow be enough to prevent whatever threats or attacks that may come."

The vote is seen as a key step in the post-September 11 U.S. effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan. The coalition ousted the Taliban for harboring leaders of the al Qaeda terror network, including Osama bin Laden.

Ten million Afghans have registered to vote as 5,700 election observers watch it unfold and tens of thousands of national and international troops patrol so people can cast their ballot in peace.

The vote has been delayed twice as violence wracked the nation. Karzai survived an attack last month, and on Wednesday, a convoy carrying his running mate was hit.

Ahmad Zia Masood escaped unhurt from the roadside explosion that hit his convoy in Badakhshan province.

Only two other candidates are considered big names nationwide: the Uzbek general, Abdul Rashid Dostum, and the former education minister, Yunus Qanuni.

One female candidate, Massouda Jalal, is making history by being the first woman to run for president.

Afghan citizens in Iran, Pakistan and other countries have also cast votes and results are not likely for two to three weeks U.N. officials have said.

"We expect to have a successful election on Saturday. We have taken all the measures necessary," Jerome Leyraud, U.N. Afghan election manager, told CNN.

Asked about bin Laden, the target of an intense U.S. manhunt since the war, Karzai said the focus is still on him but there also are other terrorists of concern.

"He's a fugitive. He's running away from the law. We'll get him some day."


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