Mon, Jun 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

UN to press on in Afghan voting

TOUGH GOING Despite violence against female poll workers, the UN says that it won't stop registration work, though female workers' movements will be restricted


The UN has vowed to keep registering female voters in historic September elections despite a deadly attack on women electoral officers that has forced it to temporarily restrict the movement of female workers.

Some of the women were with their small children when a bomb went off inside the minibus heading to voter registration sites in eastern Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan on Saturday.

Two women were killed and another 11 of the party injured, some critically, officials said.

"These were Afghan women working for Afghan women in the east to enable them to join millions of other Afghans who will vote in the upcoming elections," the UN special representative in Afghanistan Jean Arnault said.

"Their killers probably wanted to stop this momentum towards broad female participation. They will not reach their goal," Arnault said.

Remnants of the Taliban, whose regime saw women unable to work, girls unable to attend school and females banished from public life, have vowed to disrupt the polls.

"We will try our best to sabotage the election process and this was a sign of Taliban's attempt to sabotage elections," a man claiming to represent the fundamentalist militia, Abdul Latif Hakimi, said.

The UN has now restricted the movements of women working for the electoral secretariat in Afghanistan. So far more than 4.5 million people have registered to vote, about half of the number of Afghans estimated to be eligible for September's parliamentary and presidential polls.

The eastern region of Afghanistan is second only to Kabul in terms of the number of men and women registering to vote in the elections which were originally to be held this month but delayed for logistical and security reasons.

One of these reasons was that voter registration is strictly segregated, as voting will be, and officials had struggled to find enough literate women willing to and capable of staffing booths.

In Nangarhar, about 35 percent of those registered are women and female participation is "rising fast in spite of well-known cultural limitations," Arnault said.

The preliminary results from a recent Asia Foundation survey of more than 800 Afghans from around the country found most women do not leave their homes as much as once a week to visit neighbors, family or friends.

Only 9 percent leave the house at least once a week to go shopping and 61 percent never venture out for this purpose.

Yet the number of women registering in conservative Afghanistan, where most women do not work and the all-enveloping burqa garment is seen everywhere, has been steadily increasing. It now sits at about 37 percent overall.

President Hamid Karzai, who seems to have no serious rival for the presidential post, has condemned the attack as "inhumane" and "un-Islamic" and urged Afghans to stick with the electoral process.

"That the terrorists attacked women is an anti-Islamic, hateful action," he said in a statement released by his office.

Yesterday, hundreds of people demonstrated in Jalalabad against the attack, shouting anti-Taliban and anti-al-Qaeda slogans, city police chief Abdul Rehmad said.

"They were condemning the attack on the voter registration workers," he said.

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