Afghanistan: Women line up to vote in western Herat province

Herat, 20 August (AKI) - By Alessia Virdis - A stream of women came to cast their votes in the western Afghan province of Herat on Thursday. They were among 17 million people who registered across the country to vote in presidential and provincial elections considered crucial for Afghanistan's future.

Men and women, clad in the traditional light blue head-to-toe burqas, could be seen gathering on the streets of Herat, the provincial capital, near election campaign hoardings.

Brightly coloured kites could be seen flying above the city, Afghanistan's second most developed in social and economic terms.

Police were on duty as voters began casting their ballots at the city's 457 polling stations that included schools, mosques and government buildings.

But others were forced to close elsewhere in Herat province and in Afghanistan's volatile south, amid fears of Taliban attacks.

There are two women out of 31 candidates left in the presidential race and about 10 percent of 3,000 hopefuls seeking election to the country's provincial councils are female.

International rights group Human Rights Watch has warned that cultural restrictions and the risk of attacks from the Taliban and other insurgents was a significant obstacle to women's participation in the electoral polls - as voters and candidates.

In the Regional Command West area, where 2,500 Italian soldiers are deployed in the NATO-led peacekeeping force, 84 polling stations were closed for security reasons. Ten percent of these are located in the province of Herat.

Voting was proceeding smoothly in the province, according to Col. Michele Brandonisio, commander of the local reconstruction team.

Schools were closed in Herat for voting and Afghan children could be seen on the city's streets.


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