The burly nomad with a henna beard and a fierce scowl grips the pen between his thick fingers. Turgul cannot read the election material around him, but is determined to practice the first vote of his life. \nThe turbaned tribesman drags the pen across a scrap of paper. "Just like that," he says uncertainly, holding aloft the squiggle that will mark his choice. \nFew elections have faced such a dizzy array of challenges as Saturday's presidential poll in Afghanistan. Taliban terrorists are threatening bombings and warlords may try to warp the result. The terrain is forbidding, the logistics maddening and, like Turgul, many voters are illiterate. \n"It's been very difficult," said Amandine Roche, a UN civil education officer. "But Afghans really want this to work." \nMore than 10 million voters have registered, 40 percent of them women; there is an ethnically diverse field of 18 candidates; and for the first time ever, war-worn Afghans will taste democracy. \nThere is also anxiety. In the south and south-east, the Taliban have threatened to scuttle the poll through violence and intimidation. Afghan and coalition forces on Saturday arrested 25 Taliban suspects in a dawn raid in Kabul. \nAway from the capital, the main worry is the warlords who, between them, have 45,000 gunmen in their pay. Flush with soaring drug revenues, many vow to retain influence over their fiefdoms. \n"Many rural voters say the militias have told them how to vote, and they're afraid of disobeying," said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. \nThe UN, which is spending US$200 million on the election, has 115,000 election officials and has hired 5,000 satellite phones, 1,150 jeeps, four helicopters and a cargo jet. The final vote will not be tallied until the last ballot box returns from the farthest reaches of the Hindu Kush mountains by donkey, up to two weeks after polling day. \nYet Afghans display an infectious enthusiasm about the poll. Yesterday Kuchi nomads gathered outside their tents on a hillside near Kabul for a lesson in voting. \nShah Faqir, a one-eyed sheep farmer, was unable to read but could point to the photograph of his chosen candidate, Hamid Karzai, the country's interim leader. "He stopped the fighting and brought stability to this country," he said. "The others are bad guys. If they win, the gunmen will return and the country will be destroyed." \nThe Kuchi women have also registered to vote, but were nowhere to be seen. \nKarzai is the favorite but may face a second round of voting if his nearest rival, the former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, polls strongly. Both are flag-bearers for their ethnic communities: Qanooni is a northern Tajik, Karzai a southern Pashtun but with broader appeal. \nSome say an election now is too dangerous. But "most Afghans see it as a move away from the rule of the gun, and that is positive," said Grant Kippen of the US National Democratic Institute, which helps to oversee elections.
An uncrewed Chinese spacecraft has acquired imagery data covering all of Mars, including visuals of its south pole, after circling the planet more than 1,300 times since early last year, state media reported yesterday. The Tianwen-1 successfully reached the Red Planet in February last year on the country’s inaugural mission there. A robotic rover has since been deployed on the surface as an orbiter surveyed the planet from space. Among the images taken from space were China’s first photographs of the Martian south pole, where almost all of the planet’s water resources are locked. In 2018, an orbiting probe operated by the European
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A former South Korean Navy SEAL turned YouTuber who risked jail time to leave Seoul and fight for Ukraine said it would have been a “crime” not to use his skills to help. Ken Rhee, a former special warfare officer, signed up at the Ukrainian embassy in Seoul the moment Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked for global volunteers and was fighting on the front lines near Kyiv by early March. To get there, he had to break South Korean law — Seoul banned its citizens from traveling to Ukraine, and Rhee, who was injured in a fall while leading a special operations