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Afghanistan presidential election campaign kicks off under shadow of violence

Campaigning has officially begun for Afghanistan's presidential election. It's feared the build-up to the April 5 vote could be plagued by violence, after a host of Taliban threats and the killing of two election aides.

Eleven presidential candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai began two months of campaigning on Sunday.

The vote is considered a crucial test of whether Afghanistan can ensure a stable political transition as NATO forces prepare to withdraw after almost 13 years of war.

The campaign process faces a number of hurdles, however, including widespread security fears and concerns that allegations of election rigging could resurface, as was the case in the previous presidential vote.

The Taliban have rejected the election and have vowed to step up attacks to disrupt it. According to news agency Reuters, one embassy claimed in a recent confidential security report that monthly attacks in the capital, Kabul, are already at their highest since 2008.

"This increase can be attributed to efforts towards the presidential elections," the embassy said.

Political aides killed

Meanwhile, on the eve of campaigning

two political workers were assassinated

in the western city of Herat.

Officials said gunmen shot dead the aides to leading election candidate and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah in their car on Saturday.

"This cowardly action constitutes a violent intimidation of electoral candidates and their supporters, and cannot be tolerated," the United Nations said in a statement.

No group claimed responsibility for their killings.

Abdullah, who is tipped to go through to the runoff stage, was the main contender against Karzai in the 2009 vote. An ethnic Tajik, he is expected to be up against one of several prominent Pashtuns running for presidency.

Under Afghan law President Hamid Karzai can not run for a third term.

ccp/tj (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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