Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Afghans Defy Taliban to Vote for Peace

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Afghans Defy Taliban to Vote for Peace

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerome Starkey in Lashkar Gar, capital of Helmand Province

HUNDREDS of people defied Taliban threats and rocket attacks to vote in Afghanistan's most dangerous province today.

One boy was killed and two more were seriously injured when a volley of Taliban rockets screamed into Lashkar Gah just 20 minutes after polling opened. One landed 10 metres outside a football field where the local governor and President Hamid Karzai's local campaign manager were voting.

But with astonishing bravery, most voters brushed aside the attacks in the capital of Helmand province. "Afghans are not women, they are brave," said 80-year-old Faiz Mohammed. "They will come and vote."

But Lashkar Gah's women proved their mettle as well. "I'm voting for my future and for the future of my children," said Haja, a mother of nine, as the sound of Nato air strikes rolled across the polling station. "I want a better government, peace and security."

Officials said turnout was far lower than Afghanistan's first presidential elections, in 2004. But across the city a steady trickle of voters braved the Tali-babombardment to vote. Outside the city, one polling station was closed after a Taliban assault. "Fighting is still going on," said a government source. He asked not to be named because Mr Karzai's government has ordered a news blackout on all reporting of Taliban attacks, invoking "emergency powers" diplomats fear could be used more widely if there is post-election violence.

Rachel Reid, an Afghanistan-based Human Rights Watch researcher, attacked the move as censorship.

One girl, showing off her ink-stained finger to show she had voted, admitted she was just 15. "I desperately wanted to vote," said Shugafa. "I voted for Karzai because all my family is voting for him." The Taliban had threatened to cut off any fingers bearing the voting ink.

Across the province fewer than half of Helmand's polling stations opened. Taliban threats forced 115 sites to stay closed, and just 107 polling sites opened in pockets of the province controlled by Nato and the Afghan government, the head of Helmand's Independent Election Commission told the Standard. …

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