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Germany

Schröder's Afghan Visit on Track

German Chancellor Schröder will travel to Afghanistan next week despite a rocket attack near the German embassy in Kabul. The attack came a day before the country's first free presidential elections.

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Afghans are learning how to vote as the first free polls loom

The rocket exploded early Friday in the parking lot of a building next to the German embassy where journalists can get accredited for the polls, according to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

No one was injured in the attack, which came ahead of Saturday's presidential elections that militants of the former fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime have vowed to disrupt.

Several embassies, including that of the United States as well as ISAF headquarters and the United Nations building are in the area where the blast occurred.

Supporting democratization process

Offizieller Staatsbesuch von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder in Afghanistan

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder inspects German peacekeepers during his vist to the ISAF base in Kabul in May, 2002.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who is to scheduled to visit Afghanistan after attending the ASEM conference in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi on Friday, will go ahead with his plans.

"Chancellor Schröder made it clear that he will stick to his plans," the chancellor's spokesman, Bela Anda told journalists. "We are assessing the security situation very carefully," Anda added. "We don't know many details about the background of the attack but it was obviously aimed at disrupting the election process."

Schröder is slated to visit ISAF headquarters in Kabul as well as hold talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and German peacekeepers and civilian reconstruction workers.

Anda pointed out that more than 2,000 German ISAF soldiers as well as civilian helpers are currently stationed in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. That's why Schröder "is determined to travel there," he said and added that Schröder wanted to support the democratization process in Afghanistan with his visit a day before the country's first free presidential elections.

Germans stay on another year

Security has been a huge concern in the run-up to the Afghan elections.

Bundeswehrsoldat in Kabul

A German soldier, right, patrols together with an Afghan policeman as children wave to them in Kabul, Afghanistan, in Jan. 2002.

Near-daily attacks, blamed on remnants of the Taliban and entrenched warlords, have prompted many of the 18 candidates contesting the polls to call for the election to be postponed. Over 1,000 people have died in militant-related attacks in the country since August last year.

NATO General Secretary de Hoop Scheffer has not ruled out attacks taking place during Saturday's elections. "Naturally, NATO is not in a position to stop every saboteur who wants to create chaos. That would be going too far," de Hoop Scheffer said in Berlin. Germany is one of the largest contributors to the multinational ISAF force in Afghanistan.

The German parliament, which last week, extended the troops' mandate by another year, also agreed that German soldiers would be deployed outside the capital of Kabul to secure the elections. German reinforcements have been sent to Faizabad and Kunduz in northern Afghanistan since mid September, where German troops have already formed two so-called provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs).

Providing security and information

The so-called "election reinforcements," who are lightly armed with pistols and rifles, are meant to carry out patrols in the area and give the local population a sense of security as elections loom.

On election day, the German soldiers are to support the Afghan authorities by protecting polling stations, which are to be set up in schools and civic offices. The soldiers will also help to monitor the transport of the ballots as well as aid in counting votes. However, in the case of conflict, German troops will only intervene if the Afghan army or police explicity ask for help.

In addition to bolstering security, Germany's Bundeswehr has also been informing the local population about the election via radio and a newspaper.

Die Zeichen der Zivilisation

An Afghan man stands amongst several TV satellite dishes in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan.

The radio channel "Voice of Freedom" which broadcasts seven hours daily is made up of seven Afghan journalists under German leadership. The Germans have also set up a newspaper under the same name, which is produced in Kabul and includes eight pages on northern Afghanistan.

The aim of both the radio and newspaper programs is to provide general knowledge and inform the populace of the function and role of elections and thus aid the democratization process. The Bundeswehr also has a tank and two trucks outfitted with loudspeakers in the region towards that purpose.

According to a Bundeswehr spokesman, the voter registration drive in Kunduz has met with resounding success. Around 1.5 million people are eligible to vote in the four provinces in the region.

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