Taliban calls for boycott of crucial polls as anti-election violence leave five dead
KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban rebels urged Afghans on Friday to boycott weekend legislative elections many hope will marginalize the insurgents, while a candidate was shot dead and four other people were killed in bombings near polling stations.With some 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops on alert, election workers used donkeys, dilapidated trucks and helicopters to haul millions of paper ballots to more than 6,000 polling centers ahead of Sunday’s vote.Hopes are high the vote will end a quarter-century of violence and entrench a fragile democracy by demonstrating public support for an elected government. But the Taliban and other militants showed no signs of letting up in their attacks.Purported Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi urged Afghans not to take part in the elections but said Taliban insurgents would not attack civilians going to vote. He said they would target only areas where U.S.-led coalition forces were deployed – and he advised civilians to avoid such places.”Our demand to the people of Afghanistan is, ‘Don’t participate in this election because it is a U.S. policy.’ The Taliban is against all U.S. policies,” he told The Associated Press by phone from an undisclosed location.Information from Hakimi in the past has sometimes proven exaggerated or untrue. Afghan and U.S. military officials say he is believed to speak for factions of the rebel group, though his exact ties to the Taliban leadership cannot be verified.Army Brig. Gen. James G. Champion, deputy commander in charge of combat operations in Afghanistan, said U.S.-led coalition forces expect Taliban insurgents to continue violent efforts to disrupt Sunday’s elections, but do not believe there will be a large coordinated attack like recent ones in Iraq.The insurgents have threatened a “spectacular event,” said Champion, speaking to Pentagon reporters in Washington.But, he said, “we have not seen the ability of the enemy here in Afghanistan to mount coordinated attacks across the country. They would be looking for that one event to get into an area and cause damage and loss of life. … But I don’t see any kind of situation happening like you’re seeing in Iraq.”In the latest attack blamed on the Taliban, a roadside bomb hit a public bus near a voting center in central Ghazni province Friday, killing three civilians and wounding seven others, including children, said local police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang.Gunmen dragged election candidate Abdul Hadi from his house in southern Helmand province Thursday night and killed him, said Mohammed Wali, a spokesman for the local governor.His death brought to seven the number of candidates killed in the lead-up to the polls. Four elections workers also have been slain.A roadside bomb hit a U.S. military convoy Thursday in Ghazni, wounding two U.S. troops and killing their Afghan interpreter, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said. The two wounded soldiers were in hospitalized in stable condition, he said.The blast occurred on a road leading to a polling center just before a convoy of election workers was about to pass with ballot papers, said local official Ahmed Jan. Two other roadside bombs were found and defused in the area, he said.Top Afghan and U.S. officials said the Taliban is likely to launch attacks on election day, but they were confident any violence won’t disrupt the polls.”All our police and soldiers are now in place and are ready for anything. I am absolutely sure the elections will proceed very smoothly,” Defense Minister Rahim Wardak told The Associated Press. “People are very excited and they want these polls to bring peace and stability.”Security was tight in the capital. Road checkpoints sprung up, with police pulling over vehicles ranging from hay wagons to ribbon-decked wedding cars.Armed police sat atop trucks that left a Kabul warehouse loaded with ballots bound for polling stations.In central Bamiyan province, ballots were piled onto the backs of donkeys and horses to reach remote mountainous villages. Several soldiers walked alongside the long caravan of animals.An official one-month campaign period ended at dawn Friday, 48 hours ahead of voting. But some vehicles advertising candidates still drove through the streets of the capital, lined with election posters slapped on walls and trees.—-Associated Press correspondents Tomas Munita in Bamiyan and Noor Khan in Quetta, Pakistan contributed to this report.