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Protests over election fraud claims gather pace in Afghanistan

Source: Reuters - Sun, 22 Jun 2014 09:42 GMT
Author: Reuters
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Afghan demonstrators burn their election ID cards during a protest in support of presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah in Herat province, June 22, 2014. REUTERS/Mohammad Shoib
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KABUL, June 22 (Reuters) - Protests in support of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah's decision to drop out of the electoral process gathered in several cities on Sunday, as tension over allegations of mass-fraud in the run-off vote grew.

Abdullah has so far ignored calls by the United Nations and the Afghan government to return to the electoral process, after withdrawing earlier this week by declaring any outcome was illegal and recalling his observers monitoring the vote count.

The second day of protests came despite appeals for calm by Afghan authorities and the United Nations, intensifying longstanding concerns of a struggle for power along ethnic lines and casting doubt on Afghanistan's attempt to transfer power democratically for the first time in its history.

The election comes as most foreign troops are planning to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year. The fragile state of the society they will leave behind was underscored on Saturday by a suicide bombing aimed at a government official.

Abdullah, of mixed Tajik and Pashtun heritage, is known for his leadership role in the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. The June 14 run-off vote pitted him against ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani, who belongs to the majority ethnic Pashtun group.

Abdullah is demanding an investigation into vote fraud and the dismissal of the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) Secretariat Zia-ul-Haq Amarkhil.

Several hundred of his supporters protested outside the presidential palace, while others gathered and disrupted traffic for a second day on the main road leading to the international airport.

In western Herat province, hundreds of Abdullah supporters gathered and chanted "death to IEC" and "fraudsters must be tried".

Angry protesters made their way to Herat governor's office and around 60 burnt their voting cards in protest.

"We are tired of fraud and we are against it," Abdul Rahman, a protester who burnt his voting ID in Herat, told Reuters.

"We had the right to cast one vote and when the Independent Election Commission does not respect our right then there is no need to have a voting card. We will not participate in elections any more."

In northern Kunduz province, armed men from Abdullah's campaign forcibly shut down the election office, Amir Amza Ahmadzai, head of IEC in Kunduz, told Reuters.

"We have already sent an official letter to the police but they haven't responded yet," he said. (Reporting by Omar Sobhani and Mirwais Harooni in Kabul, writing by Praveen Menon; editing by Jessica Donati)

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