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Some polling stations may close

KABUL // More than 10 per cent of planned voting stations could be closed on election day, because the safety of voters cannot be guaranteed, officials said yesterday. Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) said the number of stations could be as low as 6,200, down from earlier expectations of close to 7,000. IEC officials were unable to say exactly how many voting stations will open for the elections. "The number will be somewhere between the two figures, 6,200 and 7,000. It will be clear on election day, we will not know until then," the IEC's deputy electoral officer Zekria Barakzai said.

The IEC submitted a list of 6,969 potential polling centres to security authorities in April, it said, noting the number was substantially higher than the 6,200 centres used in elections in 2005. The number next week, it said, would "either be the same or more than in 2005". Deteriorating security, amid Taliban threats to prevent Afghans going out to vote, is threatening to undermine the election, the second for president in Afghanistan's history.

"There could be far fewer centres because they cannot be secured," said chief electoral officer Daud Ali Najafi. He said ballot papers had not yet been delivered to nine districts, with just a week to go before the elections. Describing the districts as "under threat," Mr Najafi told reporters materials would be sent to the polling booths in these districts once "electoral norms are implemented".

Unless the IEC determined that election officials and observers could move freely in the contentious districts, and that Afghan army and police could guarantee the safety of voters, the booths would not open, he said. Mr Barakzai said this week that nine districts were under the control of the Taliban and that 93 voting centres in 10 districts were expected to remain shut on election day. * Agence France-Presse

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