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Huge Afghan poll attack 'foiled'


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Huge Afghan poll attack 'foiled'

Security forces in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar say they have thwarted an attack that could have killed hundreds of people.

A tanker carrying 40,000 litres of fuel and packed with explosives was intercepted on the eve of the country's first direct presidential elections.

More than 100,000 Afghan and international security forces are on high alert ahead of Saturday's vote.

International peacekeepers say they are optimistic the vote will go smoothly.

Voting within Afghanistan itself begins at 0230 GMT.

Afghans refugees registered to vote in neighbouring Pakistan can cast their vote earlier, from 0200 GMT.

Jalalabad arrests

Afghan troops blocked the road leading from Kandahar to the border town of Spin Boldak after the truck was found to have explosives packed in its tyres.

Afghan commander Abdul Ghafur told Reuters the truck was intercepted after a tip-off.

US forces had used sniffer dogs to foil the attack late on Thursday, he said.

"It is obvious that their main goal was to detonate the truck in Kandahar city," Mr Ghafur said.

Colonel Ishaq Paiman, deputy spokesman for the Afghan defence ministry, said: "This would have caused hundreds of deaths ... and the electoral process would have been derailed in the area."

Nato peacekeepers' spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Ken MacKillop, said three Pakistanis were arrested.

Commander MacKillop also said that two men, one Afghan, one Pakistani, were arrested in the eastern city of Jalalabad while waiting to travel to Kabul.

"They had 12 [improvised explosive devices] in their possession," he said.

Mistaken engagement

Elements of the former Taleban regime have vowed to disrupt Afghanistan's first free, direct elections.

Khalid Pashtun, a spokesman for the provincial Kandahar government, said the Taleban had attacked Afghan troops in Kandahar's district of Khakrez district, on Thursday.

Three insurgents were killed and six wounded, he said.

In another incident, in southern Helmand province, four soldiers died and four were hurt when Afghan troops and militiamen loyal to the government mistakenly engaged in an hour-long gun battle on Thursday.

Early on Friday, a rocket also landed close to the main headquarters of international peacekeepers in Kabul.

Mr Karzai's vice presidential running mate Ahmed Zia Massood survived an assassination attempt on Wednesday.

Security has been the leading concern in the run-up to the election, seriously curtailing campaigning, which ended on Wednesday.

However, Commander MacKillop said: "Everyone is optimistic that the election will carry forth. We have been working very closely with the Afghan police and army to make sure the security environment... is as safe as possible."

Ballot boxes

Eighteen candidates are standing for president.

About 25,000 polling stations in 5,000 locations across the country will open at 0700 local time on Saturday morning.

Polling begins at 0630 for around 740,000 Afghan refugees in camps in Pakistan. Around another 600,000 may vote in Iran.

In addition to high security, human rights groups have warned that voters may be intimidated.

There will be few independent observers at polling stations.

Voting is scheduled to finish at 1600 local time in Afghanistan.

Ballot boxes will then be sealed and transported to eight regional counting centres.

In this mountainous country, some will have to be taken by helicopter.

Initial results are expected in the coming days but it may take a couple of weeks for all the votes to be counted.

Interim President Hamid Karzai is widely tipped to win, although Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and Tajik former education minister Yunus Qanuni have fought high-profile campaigns.

BBC regional analyst Pam O'Toole says many Afghans hope the election will bring an end to the rule of the gun, provide national unity and encourage the flow of further international aid.

She says a lot will depend on how Afghanistan's various power brokers react to the result and how far the victor is prepared to challenge the political status quo in a country that is sometimes described as a series of mini fiefdoms.

Story from BBC NEWS:


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