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Karzai faces two rivals in debate
KABUL, Aug 17 (Agencies):
Published on 18 Aug. 2009 12:37 AM IST
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After failing to show up for the first televised debate of the campaign, President Hamid Karzai took on two rivals Sunday night who described his government as mired in corruption and deficient in bringing jobs and security to Afghanistan. In the nearly two-hour debate against former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and former planning minister Ramazan Bashardost, Karzai calmly defended his record and sought to portray Afghanistan as vastly improved since he took over leadership of the country in 2001 after the fall of the Taliban. Karzai will face off with Ghani, Bashardost and others in a field of 41 candidates who are vying to win the presidency in Thursday’s vote. The event Sunday, sponsored by Radio Free Europe and held in an auditorium operated by Afghanistan’s national television station, marked the first time during the campaign that Karzai has publicly debated his opponents. But the candidate considered the strongest challenger to Karzai, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, chose not to participate. Bashardost, an ethnic Hazara who has been running his campaign from a tent in Kabul and has vowed to operate without security guards if he wins, was the most colorful candidate Sunday. He attacked government corruption and incompetence and said Afghans are attracted to the Taliban’s style of swift, brutal justice because they receive no help with their problems from local officials. He said he would throw out the officials who “are just putting dollars in their pockets.” Karzai attempted to shift blame for the nation’s problems away from his government. He said Western troops helped incite Taliban violence in recent years through invasive searches of Afghan homes and by causing civilian casualties. He also stressed his view that Afghanistan’s problems with violence and terrorism come from outside countries and are not a homegrown problem. He emphasized how Afghanistan’s budget revenue and per-capita income had grown during his tenure. “The lifestyle has gotten better in this country,” he said. Karzai said that if he was elected, he would convene a grand council, or loya jirga, including the Taliban and other militant Islamist groups, to try to forge a peace deal. Bashardost questioned whether the Taliban is ready to negotiate. Taliban vow to bomb polling booths KANDAHAR, Aug 17 (Agencies): The Taliban on Sunday threatened for the first time to attack Afghan polling stations, escalating their bid to derail key elections this week after striking Nato in the heart of Kabul. The threat was made in leaflets, dropped in villages in the south, and authenticated by a Taliban spokesman who said the militia would accelerate its bloody campaign of violence on the eve of polls. “This is to inform respected residents that you must not take part in the polls so as not to become a victim of our operations, because we will use new tactics,” said one leaflet distributed in Kandahar. “All people are being informed that you must not rent out property to voting centres and if anyone did — even after elections — they may face problems”, they said. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi confirmed the leaflets were authentic and that commanders were ordering the masses to boycott the vote. The leaflets marked the first direct threat from the rebels to attack polling sites. The leaflets came even as supporters of the candidates came out in their thousands on Sunday. In his regional power base in the north, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, President Hamid Karzai’s main challenger, was mobbed by thousands of supporters who stormed a gate to surge into the compound where his helicopter touched down. He was hoisted onto a pickup truck and driven through the town of Taloqan, surrounded by crowds of adoring supporters. “I told the crowd we have already won,” Abdullah said. Karzai disappointed thousands of people in the southern city of Kandahar who were hoping he would make an appearance at a rally addressed by one of his half-brothers, Ahmad Wali Karzai, Kandahar’s provincial council chief. Kandahar is Karzai’s home town as well as the heartland of the Taliban, whose fighters have vowed to disrupt the poll with attacks.

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