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Taliban cut off Afghan voters' ink-stained fingers, election observers say

The observers say they confirmed two such cases in southern Afghanistan and were investigating a third in an eastern province.

August 23, 2009|Laura King

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — The shadowy threat circulated in city streets and village bazaars in the days before Afghanistan's historic presidential vote: The Taliban would cut off the ink-stained fingers of those who had cast a ballot.

On Saturday, election observers disclosed that they had confirmed two such cases in the south of Afghanistan, and were investigating a third in an eastern province.

Two finger amputations took place in Kandahar province, where the Taliban movement was born. Officials asked that the district not be disclosed because it would endanger the observer who reported the grisly acts. The case under investigation was in a province bordering Pakistan's volatile tribal areas, where many insurgent groups are based.

The victims were attacked by insurgents soon after voting Thursday in presidential and provincial assembly elections, said Nader Nadery, who heads the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the country's premier domestic election-monitoring group. No further details about the attack were disclosed. The telltale indelible purple ink is used to prevent voter fraud.

The south of Afghanistan, where insurgents and Western troops have clashed fiercely this summer, was considered the most dangerous place to vote. Despite intensive efforts by U.S. and other Western forces to safeguard the balloting, many people in the region stayed home.

An overall turnout figure has not been compiled, but it will be a major factor in determining the vote's legitimacy.

The finger-cutting disclosure came as domestic and foreign monitoring groups began offering detailed appraisals of the vote, in which incumbent President Hamid Karzai faced three main rivals and more than two dozen other contenders.

To win outright, a candidate needs more than 50% of the vote. Karzai's camp has expressed optimism that he will have the majority; aides of his chief rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, have said they are all but certain the contest will go to a runoff.

Preliminary results are to be announced Tuesday, but a final tally is not due until September.

Monitoring groups have generally described the vote as flawed, but successful in that it took place at all. Violence had surged in the weeks leading up to the vote. Various observer groups have raised concerns, such as women having been denied full voting rights, regional patterns in the low turnout that could have skewed the result, and the wealth of opportunities for fraud provided by a faulty voter-registration process.

The dipping of voters' right index fingers in indelible ink was a measure intended to prevent repeat voting, but the tactic spawned controversy after claims the ink could be easily washed off with a common laundry product.

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laura.king@latimes.com

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