Afghan media blackout call as violence threatens vote

An Afghan policeman walks near the bank in Kabul where an armed robbery ended in a gun battle.
Afghanistan’s government on Wednesday called for a media blackout on reporting violence as fresh attacks threatened disruptions a day ahead of pivotal presidential elections.

The media was asked to refrain from covering any attacks on election day in an effort to “ensure the wide participation of the Afghan people.” This week, the Taliban said it plans to disrupt the elections with continued attacks and threatened to kill Afghans who vote. The government request came as police stormed a bank in Kabul and killed three armed robbers with suspected links to the Taliban after their robbery attempt had escalated into a sustained gun battle with security officers. A day earlier, seven civilians were killed and 53 other wounded in the capital in a deadly suicide strike on a major thoroughfare, while a rocket attack damaged the compound of the presidential palace. At least one independent news agency refused to heed the media blackout on reports of violence. Restricting media freedoms has no basis in Afghanistan’s constitution, said the Pajhwok News Agency. Afghan and commanders are fielding some 300,000 troops to protect voters on Thursday, according to NATO officials in charge of election security, but the surge in violence has made some Afghans think twice about voting.

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“If we are not at peace, why should we vote Who should we vote for” said Ferishta, 21, who last weekend lay in a blood-soaked shirt and was connected to an intravenous drip after a suicide bombing. Amid the violence, candidates wrapped up last-minute campaigning, with the hope that the elections can showcase their country’s fledgling democracy. “We’re at a moment of truth,” said Mark Schneider, senior vice president of the International Crisis Group, an independent advisory and analysis organization. Incumbent President Hamid Karzai and 40 challengers, including two women, are on the ballot, vying for the votes of an estimated 17 million registered Afghans.

Key issues are the ongoing war against Taliban insurgents, allegations of government corruption in handling billions of dollars of aid and rampant poverty. Among Karzai’s main rivals are two former members of his own cabinet: Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah and former finance minister Ashraf Ghani.