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90 Percent of Afghans Registered to Vote


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KABUL, Afghanistan - About 90 percent of the Afghan electorate has registered to vote in October's landmark presidential election, the United Nations said Sunday, as it began winding down a registration effort marred by bloody attacks on election staff and voters.

According to the latest U.N. figures, 8.7 million of an estimated 9.8 million eligible voters have collected ID cards that will allow them to cast a ballot when polling begins Oct. 9 in Afghanistan's first-ever direct national vote.

The enthusiastic turnout is a relief for the world body, which has overcome misgivings about Afghanistan's readiness for elections under strong pressure from the United States. The vote had been delayed from June because of slow progress disarming warlords. A vote for Parliament was put off until next spring.

It is also a welcome surprise for President Hamid Karzai, who is widely expected to defeat 22 rivals to secure a new five-year term. The U.S.-backed interim leader was still saying in June that registering 6 million people would have been sufficient.

"The participation is amazing," U.N. spokesman David Singh said. "There was a lot of skepticism about this process at the beginning, but the targets have been fulfilled."

Registration for elections, which are supposed to cap a U.N.-sponsored peace drive begun after the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001, started last December in eight Afghan cities, and was extended across the country in the spring.

The response has been strong in the north, west and center of the country, where regional leaders — including several opposed to Karzai's plans for a strong central government — have encouraged their supporters to sign up and hundreds of registration sites have already closed.

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