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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 20:54 GMT 21:54 UK
Afghan vote 'faces further delay'
Afghans gather to register votes
Voter registration has been beset by security problems
Elections due for September in Afghanistan face further delays because of differences over the timing of the poll, the government says.

A foreign ministry spokesman insisted the landmark vote - already delayed from June - would be held as promised.

But he acknowledged that Friday's legal deadline of 90 days' notice for a September date was unlikely to be met.

Separately, Spain pledged to send more troops to Afghanistan to help provide security for the UN-backed elections.

About 1,000 soldiers would be sent before the polls, in the plan approved by the Cabinet and now to be presented to parliament.

The deployment would be reduced to about 540, government officials said in Madrid.

Vital vote

The election has already been postponed from June because of worsening security and slow voter registration.

It is Afghanistan's first free electoral exercise for more than two decades, and a key component of attempts to build democracy in the country after years of war.

Further violence on Friday underlined the threat the elections face from suspected al-Qaeda and Taleban militants.

Omar Samad, a foreign ministry spokesman, says the government is still committed to the original schedule, but warns there could be a delay of up to two weeks.

We know the money is coming, the question is the speed that the money will come
UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva
"The government's position is that elections will be held as promised. Whether it's a few days on or off is a technicality," he told Reuters news agency.

"It could be the end of September, it could be first week of October - we are still in line with what we have said."

BBC correspondents say holding the poll beyond mid-October will be too late this year - winter will have set in and Afghans will be entering the fasting month of Ramadan.

Observers say President Bush is keen for a foreign policy success from Afghanistan ahead of US presidential elections in November.

Postponement call

Officials say more than 20 Afghan parties are at odds over what sort of elections to hold, when they should take place and whether presidential and parliamentary votes should be simultaneous.

Several parties want the vote postponed.

Nato soldier and children in Kabul
Ensuring security for the vote is a major headache

The United Nations says slippage of the poll date by "a few days" would not be a major problem.

However, a member of the Afghan Election Commission, Qotbudin Qaim, told the BBC that although the presidential election would be held by mid-October, the commission was considering delaying parliamentary elections for six months.

The UN has continuing concerns over security for voters, candidates and officials after a spate of election-related attacks by militants opposed to the US-backed authorities in Kabul.

The Taleban has vowed to disrupt the polls.

On Friday, 40 suspected Taleban fighters killed a shopkeeper and two other civilians in an attack on a government office in Uruzgan province, central Afghanistan, local officials said.

The fighters reportedly attacked the administrative headquarters in Deh Rawood district with rocket-propelled grenades, assault rifles and machine guns

Separately, an American spokesman said US and Afghan troops killed five suspected Taleban rebels and captured seven in a clash on Wednesday in Dai Chopan district in the same province.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
"Security is one of the biggest headaches"

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