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Afghans say ready to secure parliamentary poll

Afghan security forces, backed by foreign troops, are "completely prepared" to secure elections this week, the president's office said on Monday, despite soaring violence and a Taliban threat to disrupt the vote.

world Updated: Sep 13, 2010 20:24 IST

Afghan security forces, backed by foreign troops, are "completely prepared" to secure elections this week, the president's office said on Monday, despite soaring violence and a Taliban threat to disrupt the vote.

Saturday's election is seen as a test of stability in Afghanistan before U.S. President Barack Obama conducts a war strategy review in December that will examine the pace and scale of U.S. troop withdrawals from July 2011.

President Hamid Karzai met senior Afghan and international security officials, including the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, his office said.

"According to a joint plan with international forces, Afghan security forces are completely prepared to secure the election and polling centres," Karzai's palace said in a statement, citing security officials at Monday's meeting.

Karzai urged security officials to use "everything at their disposal" to secure the election, the statement said.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, despite the presence of some 150,000 foreign troops and around 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police.

The Taliban have denounced the poll as a "foreign process" and said they will attack international and Afghan troops during the election and urged voters not to participate.

Afghans will take the lead in securing polling sites, just as they did at least year's presidential election.

The Taliban failed to completely disrupt that vote but attacks and threats of violence helped keep turnout low in some areas of the important Pashtun tribal belt in the south and east.

NATO and U.S. troops will have a backseat role but will have quick reaction forces on standby.

FRAGILE SECURITY

Security and fraud are the major concerns for the vote.

Four candidates have already been killed and many more have been wounded, according to the United Nations and government officials.

Even more candidates, particularly women, have suffered intimidation and have received direct threats on their lives.

The fragility of Afghanistan's security was further illustrated at the weekend when violent protests erupted around the country in reaction to plans by a small U.S. church to burn copies of the Koran. The church's pastor abandoned his plan.

Three people were killed during three straight days of demonstrations. The top U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, warned last week the protests had the potential to delay this week's vote.

De Mistura said, even before the protests, a turnout of between five million and 7 million of Afghanistan's roughly 17.5 million registered voters should be considered a success in view of the difficulties of staging a vote amid an armed conflict.

Tensions appeared to have eased by Monday but the events over the past three days highlighted the resentment many Afghans have for their government and its Western backers.

Many of the protesters shouted anti-U.S. slogans and some attacked a German-run outpost in northeastern Badakhshan province, where one of the demonstrators was killed.