Gunmen stormed a bank building in the Afghan capital and battled police for hours yesterday on the eve of a cliffhanger election that Taliban militants have vowed to disrupt.
The brazen early morning raid was the third major attack in Kabul in five days, shattering the calm in a city that had been relatively secure for months but is now tense and dotted with police checkpoints.
Polls show Afghan President Hamid Karzai leading but likely to fall short of the outright majority needed to avoid an October run-off, most likely against his main challenger, ex-foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah.
Violence could raise the chance of a run-off by suppressing turnout in southern areas where Karzai draws his support — or even jeopardize the legitimacy of the poll altogether. Analysts say a run-off in turn increases the chances of more violence.
In southern Kandahar Province, the birthplace of the Taliban, two election workers were killed in a bomb blast, an election official said.
Fearing more election-related violence, officials in Kandahar city said they would close roads to normal traffic for today’s poll, allowing only election workers and observers, vehicles transporting voters, and the media to travel freely.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said five gunmen, some wearing suicide bomb vests, carried out the Kabul raid.
Police said three fighters were involved. Security forces took reporters into a nearby compound and showed them the bullet-riddled bodies of three fighters killed in the clash.
A police source initially said three members of the security forces were also killed, but the Interior Ministry later said in a statement there were no government casualties.
In a statement on a Taliban Web site, the group said 20 suicide bombers had infiltrated the capital, preparing attacks to thwart the election. Another statement said the militants were closing roads countrywide.
Many Afghans insist they will vote in spite of the threats.
“Why should I be afraid? This is Kabul; in Kabul there is security,” said Noor Agha, 30, near the scene of yesterday’s siege. “I will vote tomorrow; I’m not afraid. Police and intelligence services are in the area, so I’m not afraid.”
The Afghan government has ordered foreign and domestic media to impose a blackout on coverage of violence during today’s polls, saying it did not want Afghans to be frightened away. However, Afghan journalists rejected the demand, saying it violated their constitutional right to cover the news.
“We will not obey this order. We are going to continue with our normal reporting and broadcasting of news,” said Rahimullah Samander, head of the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan.
Samander said a presidential spokesman called him Tuesday night to tell him to inform members of the association not to report violence on election day. He refused.
When there are rumors of violence, “the first thing they do is turn on their radios or TVs, or go on the Internet to read news,” he said. “If the people aren’t able to find information, it will be very difficult for them to participate in the election. If there is, for example, an attack on a highway going to a polling station, the people should know about it. It may be dangerous for them to use that highway.”
Fahim Dashti, the editor of the English-language Kabul Weekly, called the demand “a violation of media law” and a constitution that protects freedom of speech.
“If some huge attack occurs, of course we are obliged to cover it,” he said.
Police beat journalists and bystanders with rifle butts to keep them away from the scene of yesterday’s raid.
FORCED LABOR: Customs officials have seized a 11.8 tonne shipment of products made from human hair on suspicion they were produced by people facing human rights abuses Federal authorities in New York City on Wednesday seized a shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp. US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials said that 11.8 tonnes of hair products worth an estimated US$800,000 were in the shipment. “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in
IRRESPONSIBLE ATTITUDES? Some experts say the NHI system does not do enough to educate the public, or pay doctors to talk to patients, about healthy lifestyles While the life expectancy of Taiwanese newborns in 2018 reached 80.69 years, the number of years people spent in poor health hit a record high at 8.41 years, Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics showed on Saturday. Healthy life expectancy is calculated by a person’s life expectancy minus the time they spend in ill health, such as the loss of mobility, disabilities and chronic disease, based on medical records and calculations about the years they live with disabilities. The number of years that Taiwanese spend in poor health is increasing slowly, but steadily, rising by 0.46 years, or five-and-a-half months, between 2012
UPTICK IN NUMBERS: The Taipei deputy mayor said the city has services to assist new immigrants, but has established an office specifically to help those from Hong Kong The Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office today officially opens, where it is to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kongers, after Beijing yesterday passed a controversial national security law for the territory. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) expressed dismay over China’s passage of the law, saying that Beijing has broken its pledge to allow Hong Kong to maintain a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years following its handover from the UK. “I feel extremely disappointed [about the law’s passage], which means China did not keep its promise to Hong Kong,” Tsai said in Taipei. Beijing’s “broken promise” also
‘BASELESS ACCUSATIONS’: Ker Chien-ming said it was not possible to drop Chen Chu’s nomination, while KMT lawmakers accused their DPP rivals of ‘homicidal behavior’ The Legislative Yuan is to vote on President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) nominations for the Control Yuan on July 17 after Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislators regained access to the legislative chamber yesterday after it was occupied by Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers for about 19 hours. The Legislative Yuan had been scheduled to meet yesterday morning to discuss its planned extraordinary session, but more than 20 KMT lawmakers on Sunday afternoon broke into the main chamber and occupied the legislative speaker’s podium to protest Tsai’s nomination of former Presidential Office secretary-general Chen Chu (陳菊) to be Control Yuan president. The KMT caucus