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.
SCHEDULE: The delegation is due to meet with President Tsai Ing-wen this morning and witness the signing of an MOU on bilateral health cooperation in the afternoon US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar yesterday arrived in Taipei aboard a US government plane at the head of a delegation that is the highest-level visit by a US official since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979. Azar’s flight landed at Taipei International Airport (Songshan airport) at 4:48pm, nearly one hour earlier than scheduled, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. The apron where it landed is reserved for military aircraft, the Songshan Air Force Base Command said. The members of Azar’s delegation included HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Robert Kadlec, HHS Chief of Staff Brian
CHINESE FIGHTERS: Beijing marked the US Cabinet member’s visit by briefly sending two warplanes across the median line of the Taiwan Strait yesterday morning President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) yesterday met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar in the highest-level official meeting between the two nations since 1979. “It is a true honor to be here to convey a message of strong support and friendship from [US] President [Donald] Trump to Taiwan,” Azar said during the open portion of his courtesy call to the Presidential Office, which was streamed live online before Tsai and Azar held a closed-door meeting. “Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 has been among the most successful in the world, and that is a tribute to the open, transparent,
ALEX AZAR: The first visit by a head of the Department of Health and Human Services would strictly observe the CECC’s special regulations, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar is to lead a delegation to Taiwan — the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official since the two sides cut formal relations in 1979. The plan was announced yesterday morning by the US Department of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Beijing has expressed its concerns to Washington, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) said later yesterday. Taiwan and the US only issued statements saying that the visit would happen “in the coming days.” MOFA said that due to security concerns, it would
‘CROSS-STRAIT CONSIDERATIONS’: Groups said that the Ministry of Education’s policies excluded Chinese and students should not be blocked over political issues The Taiwan International Student Movement yesterday said it would protest today outside the Ministry of Education in Taipei against a policy that excludes some Chinese students from returning to Taiwan amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Since June 17, the ministry has allowed foreign students from 19 “low risk” and “medium-low risk” countries and regions to enter Taiwan. On July 22, it announced that it was relaxing restrictions to include students from all countries and regions who are graduating this semester and on Wednesday it further expanded entry to students enrolled in degree programs. A letter sent by the ministry on Wednesday to universities did