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Homesick Iranian women vote in Afghanistan

Fatemeh heard the call of her homeland on election day and it moved her to tears. "I voted because I love Iran. I've lived in Afghanistan for 30 years but I don't like Afghanistan," she told Reuters in Afghanistan's western Herat city.

world Updated: Jun 12, 2009 20:33 IST

Fatemeh heard the call of her homeland on election day and it moved her to tears.

"I voted because I love Iran. I've lived in Afghanistan for 30 years but I don't like Afghanistan," she told Reuters in Afghanistan's western Herat city, 125 km (80 miles) east of Iran, where dozens of Iranian women clutching their passports voted in Iran's presidential elections on Friday.

"I don't like my life here. I am here because I have four daughters, none of them are married yet."
Iran's election brought out a hidden community of women living in exile just across the border in Afghanistan, a country that shares a form of their Persian tongue -- Dari -- as one of its official languages but has starkly different traditions.

Voters were welcomed by Iranian music blaring from a brightly lit room in Iran's consulate in Herat, perhaps Afghanistan's most prosperous and developed city, which largely owes its growth to close trading links with western neighbour Iran.

According to the consulate's director, Mohammad Reza Nafar, at least 500 to 1,000 Iranian-Afghan families live in the area.

Most voters on Friday were Iranian women married to Afghan men, many now living in poverty in a much poorer country. They spoke with longing of home, and of hard lives in a strange land.

Fatemeh's Afghan husband has died, her children do not have Iranian citizenship and she can barely afford to look after them. She prays to God her daughters will be married soon so that she can return to Iran after decades away.

"The other day one of my daughters even suggested she try and get into Iran using smugglers. My life is very tough here, I miss Iran," she said crying.

Black chadors, not blue burqas

Most of the women wore the traditional Iranian-style chador -- a long black sheet held around their faces -- rather than the powder-blue burqa worn by many Afghan women which covers the face with a screen and was mandatory under the Taliban.

One woman who did not want to give her name said she had lived in Afghanistan for six years after meeting her Afghan husband in Iran. She was now living in poverty in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Herat.

"My husband is a heroin addict and I work as a clothes washer, I have four children," said the woman, originally from Iran's northeastern town of Sabzevar.

"Life is very difficult. We don't have electricity or running water. I would like to go back to Iran but I have no money to go back."

The main contender to Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is moderate former prime minister Mirhossein Mousavi. Many Afghans have welcomed his bid in the hope a thaw with the West could improve security in Afghanistan.

The Iranian voters of Herat were divided. Shahrbanoo Nourizadeh, one of the few wearing an Afghan-style burqa, said she voted for Ahmadinejad: "I think he's helped the country and it's progressed a lot."

One of the few male voters, truck driver Gholamhossein Heidari, who drives through Afghanistan from Iran about once a week, said he had voted for Mousavi "because he has a very bright and clear manifesto. I think he'll be good for the country".

"Elections are very important, for any country, it's one of the most important parts of the law," he said.