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Rocket hits Kabul just before Afghan voting day

KABUL, Afghanistan — Polling stations formally opened for voting in Afghanistan's parliamentary election today, though scattered rocket attacks struck in the early morning and Taliban insurgents managed to block at least a couple of stations from opening.

A rocket slammed into the Afghan capital before dawn, while another hit in Kandahar city in the south and three struck the eastern city of Jalalabad, officials said.

No casualties were reported in the attacks just hours before polling centers were to open across Afghanistan, where 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in Parliament. A quarter of the legislative seats are reserved for women. Final results aren't expected for weeks.

The Taliban have written threats on leaflets passed out at mosques, whispered them in villages and posted Internet messages saying those who cast ballots will be attacked.

How many Afghans ignore this intimidation campaign and turn out at the polls will be one measure of whether the vote is considered a success.

The elections — the first since a fraud-ridden presidential poll a year ago — are seen both as a test of the Afghan government's commitment to rooting out corruption and as a measure of the strength of the insurgency.

Hanging in the balance is the willingness of the U.S.-led international coalition to continue supporting Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government with 140,000 troops and billions of dollars nearly nine years into the war.

On the eve of the balloting, the head of a voting center in southern Helmand province was killed when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb.

At least 24 people have been killed in election-related violence in the run-up to the vote, including four candidates, according to observers.

In the past two days, Taliban militants abducted 18 election workers from a house in northern Bagdhis province, and a candidate was kidnapped in eastern Laghman province. Coalition forces also detained an insurgent in eastern Khost province who was "actively" planning attacks during the elections, NATO said.

The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters in Islamabad on Friday that he knows the parliamentary elections will have plenty of problems.

"They're going to be flawed," Holbrooke said. "We've had experience in our country with flawed elections, and not in the middle of a war. We're not looking for perfection here."

The Afghan government has installed extra checkpoints throughout the country and dispatched about 280,000 security forces to help secure polling stations.

Police were also stopping vehicles and questioning anyone wearing a burqa "to make sure it's actually a woman," said Khalilullah Zaiyi, the police chief of Kunar province.

Quake hits Afghanistan

A magnitude-6.3 earthquake rattled the Hindu Kush region of Afghanistan late Friday night, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, but the temblor was felt in Kabul, the capital, where beds shook and chandeliers swung for about 15 seconds.

The 11:51 p.m. quake was deep, some 124.1 miles below the surface, the USGS said. It hit about 45 miles southeast of Faizabad, Afghanistan, and 165 miles northeast of Kabul.

Rocket hits Kabul just before Afghan voting day 09/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 18, 2010 1:05am]

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