Page last updated at 19:22 GMT, Wednesday, 19 August 2009 20:22 UK

Afghanistan on alert before vote

Afghan policeman checks inside of a car in Kabul (19 August 2009)
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the elections on Thursday

Security forces in Afghanistan are on high alert on the eve of the country's presidential election, which the Taliban have vowed to disrupt.

Some 300,000 Afghan and foreign troops will be deployed to protect the 17 million voters at 6,969 polling sites.

President Hamid Karzai has urged Afghans to turn out to vote "for the country's stability, for the country's peace, for the country's progress".

Earlier, troops killed three suspected militants who attacked a bank in Kabul.

The government meanwhile came under severe criticism for ordering a ban on the media reporting violence on election day.

Enemies will do their best, but it won't help
Afghan President Hamid Karzai

The United Nations has asked for the ban to be lifted, saying the Afghan constitution guarantees a free press. Some journalists have reported being harassed and beaten by security forces.

On Tuesday, more than 20 people were killed in attacks across the country, including a suicide bombing in the capital.

'Good for us'

Speaking to reporters in Kabul after a small ceremony marking independence day, Mr Karzai said he wanted every registered voter in Afghanistan to make sure they cast their ballots in Thursday's presidential and provincial elections.

President Karzai: "Vote in millions and make this country a greater, better success"

"I'm requesting all our people, wherever they are - in villages, in homes, in remote areas, in valleys - to come out and vote in millions to make this country a greater, better success," he said. "It's good for all of us."

"Enemies will do their best, but it won't help," he added.

The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon said that by participating, Afghans would help "bring fresh vigour to the country's political life, and ultimately reaffirm their commitment to contribute to the peace and prosperity of their nation".

Opinion polls suggest support for Mr Karzai is at around 45%, with his former foreign minister, Abdullah Abdullah, in second place with 25%.

Preliminary official results should be announced sometime on Saturday evening. If the winning candidate fails to gain more than 50% of the vote on Thursday, there will be a second-round run-off in October.

'Suicide bombers'

Polling stations are due to open at 0700 (0230 GMT), but it is unclear how many will actually operate because of the security threat.

Security threat map
BBC research suggests 234 out of the 368 districts are totally secure

The interior ministry says about a third of the country is at high-risk of attack, and that no polling stations will be open in eight districts under Taliban control.

Additionally, a fifth of polling stations have yet to receive election materials, although officials say they will be fully equipped by Thursday morning.

Three election workers were killed by a roadside bomb while delivering ballot boxes by car in the remote north-eastern province of Badakhshan on Wednesday, while two others died in a similar blast in Kandahar.

Fearing further violence, the local authorities in the city of Kandahar have announced they will close roads to normal traffic.

In a statement, the Taliban said 20 suicide bombers had made their way to Kabul, where they were preparing disruptive attacks.

A donkey is used to deliver a ballot box
A fifth of polling stations have yet to receive any election materials

"The mujahideen will bear no responsibility for whoever gets hurt," it added.

The Afghan government has said that in the "national interest", news media should avoid "broadcasting any incidence of violence" between 0600 and 2000 on election day to "ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people".

The Interior Ministry separately said journalists should stay away from the scene of any attacks until investigators had collected evidence.

"We will not obey this order. We are going to continue with our normal reporting and broadcasting of news," said Rahimullah Samander of the Independent Journalist Association of Afghanistan.

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