Deteriorating Security in Afghanistan Forces Closure of Polling Places
September 8, 2010 - 5:22 AMAfghan election officials said Wednesday that scores of additional polling stations will have to remain closed during the Sept. 18 parliamentary vote because of the deteriorating security situation in the country.
The state electoral commission said 81 of the 458 polling stations planned in Nangarhar province will remain shut during the Sept. 18 parliamentary elections "due to deteriorating security conditions." The tense eastern province bordering Pakistan is a center of the Taliban insurgency, with many militants entering the country from safe havens across the border.
Election officials had earlier announced that more than 900 other polling stations would remain shut nationwide because of security concerns and that 5,897 voting sites would be opened throughout Afghanistan. During last year's fraud-marred presidential vote, 6,167 voting centers nominally operated.
The government and its foreign partners hope the elections will help consolidate the country's shaky democracy and political stability, allowing the withdrawal of the roughly 140,000 NATO-led foreign troops in the country.
But many Afghans and international observers fear the vote could turn bloody after the Taliban vowed Sunday to attack polling places and warned Afghans not to participate in what it called a sham vote.
The fears over election security come amid pledges by Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center -- a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses an anti-Islam philosophy -- to burn copies of the Quran to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that provoked the Afghan war.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, has warned that the burning of the Quran could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.
Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.
In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.
Also Wednesday, NATO reported the death of one of its service members "following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan." It did not provide details of the attack or the nationality of the victim.
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