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Three Afghan poll workers killed, 17 hurt in blast
Updated: 2004-06-26 14:14

Three women working to register voters for Afghan elections were killed and 17 female election workers were wounded when a blast destroyed their bus in the eastern city of Jalalabad Saturday, officials said.

The attack was one of the worst against workers preparing for elections supposed to be held in September, which the Taliban and allied Islamic militants have vowed to disrupt.

It is also a further setback for President Hamid Karzai's efforts to bring peace to a country U.S. President Bush has described as a role model for Iraq.

The women were heading for a voter registration site on the outskirts of the city when the blast occurred, a senior police officer said.

A spokesman for the United Nations, which is overseeing voter registration, said that according to preliminary reports, the explosion occurred as the bus was heading to Rodat district to the east of Jalalabad.

"Three have been killed, three to four seriously wounded," Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. "They are all Afghan national staff and they are all female," he said.

The police officer said 17 women had been wounded.

Registration of female voters for the poll has lagged behind that of men, especially in conservative southern and eastern provinces where militants are most active.

Saturday's attack came just after Karzai appealed to NATO Friday to make good its pledge to send more troops to protect the polls and ensure they can be held on time.

At a summit meeting in Istanbul next week, NATO is to announce that its 6,400-strong peacekeeping force will take command of four or five military-civilian reconstruction teams in northern Afghanistan and deploy about 1,200 troops for the polls.

But this will fall short of at least 5,000 extra troops the United Nations and Kabul have estimated will be needed. The deployments will also be to relatively secure provinces, not to the south and east.

Leading rights group Human Rights Watch charged that NATO "foot-dragging" had contributed to worsening security. It said it should immediately send more troops to protect voter registration and disarm warlord militias, adding that blame for a failure of the polls would rest on Washington and NATO.

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