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Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Monday, 17 August 2009 17:39 UK

Afghan campaign draws to a close

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Preparations in Afghanistan for Thursday's election

The last day of campaigning is taking place ahead of Thursday's presidential election in Afghanistan, which Taliban militants have threatened to disrupt.

Notorious ex-warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum endorsed incumbent President Hamid Karzai at a rally after flying in from exile in Turkey.

Mr Karzai faces over 30 challengers but is seen as the frontrunner in the race.

Two of Mr Karzai's main rivals, who formerly served under him as ministers, also held their own final rallies.

Mass rallies

In the capital Kabul, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, addressed a crowd of 10,000 supporters, many wearing blue shifts or waving blue flags.

Gen Dostum arrives at Kabul airport, Aug 16
The return of ex-warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum has alarmed the US

The ex-Finance Minister, Ashraf Ghani, addressed a rally of 5,000 in the eastern Nangarhar province.

Mr Ghani, who is running on a campaign of economic development, vowed to replace the "corrupt government with a legitimate one", according to French news agency, AFP.

Meanwhile in the north of the country, thousands of Afghans attended a rally led by infamous warlord Gen Abdul Rashid Dostum, a key ally of Mr Karzai and his former military chief-of-staff.

"We need to go with Hamid Karzai into the future," Gen Dostum told cheering supporters in Shiberghan, his home city.

The UN and the US both expressed concern at the timing of Gen Dostum's return and any prospective role he may have in government.

In a live televised election debate on Sunday, Mr Karzai defended his alliances with several Afghan warlords, saying they served the interests of national unity.

Taliban threat

The election is taking place amid mounting violence in the country, with Taliban militants threatening to harm anyone who takes part. There are fears that the turnout could be low as a result.

Abdullah Abdullah at a rally in Kabul Aug 17

A survey by the BBC's Afghan service suggests the government has limited or no control in 30% of the country.

The survey is based on assessments by reporters in the field who found that in 4% of Afghanistan's districts, the government provides no security or services.

The majority of them are in the south, where most Taliban attacks have taken place.

A spokesman for President Karzai said the government did not agree with the findings and there were security problems in just a few districts.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Afghanistan says that there is evidence of corruption, but above all it is the ongoing war with the Taliban - within at least a third of the country - that makes this election far from normal.

But having invested so heavily in terms of time, money and even lives, Western officials are likely to declare the vote a success - whatever the flaws and challenges, he adds.



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