Afghans to Vote in Tense Election

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Afghans head to the polls next week in only the second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban regime.
    
Incumbent President Hamid Karzai is running for re-election, but he has some stiff competition, especially from one former ally.

With the election just a few days away Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's supporters are holding out against all hope.

"We've gathered in support of Dr. Abdullah. We will vote for him," supporter Hajji Najib said.

Abdullah is no stranger to the Afghan people. A former ophthalmologist, Abdullah joined the resistance against Soviet and Taliban rule. 

He also served as foreign minister in President Hamid Karzai's government.

"He has been through all the hardships of our country, so he can serve us well," Abdullah supporter Zarmina said.

The 48-year-old Abdullah is attempting to unseat the incumbent president Hamid Karzai. 

"August 20th is the day for victory for the Afghan people," Abdullah said.

A total of 7,000 voting stations will open nationwide that day.

At a campaign rally in Kabul Abdullah promised that if he is elected a new wind will blow across the country.

"It will be the end of the days of darkness and the coming of hope and change to all aspects of the Afghan people's lives," he said.

The message resonates with people who are especially fed up with the slow pace of reconstruction since the U.S. invasion eight years ago. 

Abdullah is hoping to win over the youth vote and is appealing to women with promises of access to healthcare and education.

"We will vote for him because he has been helping people a lot and all the women have full confidence in him," supporter Hadya Kohistani said.

But holding an election in Afghanistan is no walk in the park. U.S. and British troops are fighting a war in the south, there are daily reports of killings and bomb attacks across the country and the Taliban has vowed chaos on election day.

"This is the most complicated elections I have ever seen," U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide said.

Hamid Karzai is expected to be voted back into power, despite Abdullah's strong challenge. 

But whatever the outcome, analysts believe that holding a credible election is critical to stabilizing Afghanistan in the face of growing threats from the Taliban and al Qaeda. 

To make sure that people are safe on election day, Afghanistan has hired 10,000 tribesmen to provide security in some of the insurgency-hit provinces. The new force will be deployed in 21 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

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