Kabul, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — Some Afghans lined up for hours to cast their vote Saturday in a chaotic start to parliamentary elections that are being protected by tens of thousands of security forces on alert nationwide following a campaign marred by relentless violence.
In some parts of the capital Kabul, voters waited for polls to open five hours after the official opening time of 7 a.m. In some of the city's western neighborhoods, voters were posting pictures of closed polling stations hours after they were scheduled to open.
Afghans hoping to bring change to a corrupt government have in the eight years since the last elections endured a resurgent Taliban that have carried out near-daily attacks on security forces, seizing large swathes of the countryside and threatening major cities.
The Islamic State affiliate, meanwhile, has launched a wave of bombings targeting the country's Shiite minority, killing hundreds. Both groups have threatened to attack anyone taking part in the vote.
Poll workers struggled with a new biometric system and in several polling stations workers took an extraordinary amount of time to locate names on voter lists. In some polling stations in Kabul, voting started considerably late leading to small disturbances by frustrated voters, some of whom had come to vote nearly two hours before polls opened.
The new biometric machines meant to curtail fraud were late additions to Afghanistan's elections and had not been tested in the field and workers had not had more than a few weeks to learn the system. Even the Independent Election Commission chairman, Abdul Badih Sayat, warned ahead of polling that the system might experience glitches and asked for voters' patience.
The chaos at the polls could compromise the legitimacy of Saturday's vote in the minds of many Afghans, who have already expressed fears of fraud aimed at keeping the warlords and politically corrupt who currently dominate Afghanistan's Parliament in power.
As the extent of the delays began to be known, Sayat went on national television to promise that everyone who wanted to vote would have an opportunity. He extended voting till 8 p.m. at those polling stations which opened as many as six hours late. For those polling stations that were still closed six hours after the 7 a.m. polling start, Sayat said they would vote on Sunday.
North of Kabul, thousands of outraged voters blocked a road after waiting more than five hours for a polling station to open, said Mohammad Azim, the governor of Qarabagh district where the demonstration took place.
Sayat said dozens of teachers who had been trained in the new biometric system had not shown up for work at the polling stations. It wasn't clear whether that was related to a Taliban warning directed specifically at teachers and students telling them to stay away from the polls.
It also wasn't immediately clear how many of the 21,000 polling stations across the country would be affected by the new closing time.
Afghanistan's deputy chief executive Mohammad Mohaqiq expressed outrage at the chaotic start to polling and assailed election preparation by the country's Independent Election Commission.
"The people rushed like a flood to the polling stations, but the election commission employees were not present, and in some cases they were there but there were no electoral materials and in most cases the biometric systems was not working," he said.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry said it had increased its deployment of National Security Forces to 70,000 from the original 50,000 to protect the country's 21,000 polling stations.
Elections in the two provinces of Kandahar and Ghazni have been delayed as well as in 11 of the country's nearly 400 districts.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani marked his ballot at the start of voting. In a televised speech afterward, he congratulated Afghans on another election and praised the security forces, particularly the air force, for getting ballots to Afghanistan's remotest corners. He also reminded those elected to Parliament that they are there to serve the people and ensure the rule of law.
The Independent Election Commission registered 8.8. million people. Wasima Badghisy, a commission member, called voters "very, very brave" and said a turnout of 5 million would be a success.
At a polling station in crowded west Kabul, Khoda Baksh said he arrived nearly two hours early to cast his vote, dismissing Taliban threats of violence.
"We don't care about their threats. The Taliban are threatening us all the time," said 55-year-old Baksh, who said he wanted to see a new generation of politicians take power in Afghanistan's 249-seat Parliament. He bemoaned the current Parliament dominated by warlords and a corrupt elite. "They have done zero for us."
Within hours of the start of polling, several minor incidences of violence had occurred in Kabul as well as several provinces as both the upstart Islamic State group affiliate and the Taliban have vowed to disrupt elections
In the run-up to the elections, two candidates were killed while polling in Kandahar was delayed for a week after a rogue guard gunned down the powerful provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Raziq. In the capital of Kabul, security was tight, with police and military personnel stopping vehicles at dozens of checkpoints throughout the congested city.
Commission deputy spokesman Aziz Ibrahimi said results of Saturday's voting will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until later in December.
Ghani said Afghans alone are carrying out elections as he praised the millions of voters who registered, defying threats from insurgents.
"I thank you from the bottom of my heart," he said.
New Delhi, Oct 20 (AP/UNB) — A speeding train ran over a crowd watching fireworks during a religious festival in northern India on Friday evening, killing at least 60 people and injuring dozens more, police said.
The train failed to stop after the accident on the outskirts of Amritsar, a city in Punjab state, said the state governing Congress party politician, Pratap Singh Bajwa.
Railway police officer Sukhwinder Singh said Saturday morning that the death toll had risen to 60. Another 50 people have been injured and hospitalized.
The Press Trust of India news agency said two trains arrived from the opposite direction on separate tracks at the same time, giving little opportunity for people to escape. The casualties were caused by one of the trains, it quoted officials as saying.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was extremely saddened by the accident. "Have asked officials to provide immediate assistance that is required," Modi said on Twitter.
A witness said the train didn't even sound its whistle as it sped past the site, where hundreds were watching the burning of an effigy of demon Ravana during the Hindu festival of Dussehra. As the effigy was lit and the fireworks started, a section of the crowd started retreating toward railroad tracks while observing the event.
"Why did authorities allow the fireworks display so close to the railroad track?'" he asked. He told the Republic television channel that he lost two brothers.
Another witness said the victims didn't realize that a train was coming because the fireworks were too loud.
Navjot Kaur Siddhu, a local Congress party politician who was the chief guest at the religious function, said the celebrations take place in the area every year and railroad authorities are alerted to run the trains at slow speeds.
A large number of people live in the area with homes on both sides of the railroad track, she said.
However, Junior Railways Minisfter Manoj Sinha said after visiting the accident site that organizers did not alert railroad authorities about their plan to hold the event there.
Shatrughan Das, an injured 35-year-old factory worker, said he was sitting close to the tracks watching the fireworks. "I didn't see the train coming. I fell unconscious. I saw the police taking me to a hospital as I regained consciousness."
"I am feeling a strong headache and pain in my back and legs," Das said from his hospital bed, adding his injuries were not serious.
Following the accident, people rushed to the site, nearly 465 kilometers (290 miles) north of New Delhi, and shouted at railway officials for not taking precautions.
At least 50 injured were admitted to a government-run hospital, PTI quoted Rajesh Sharma, a magistrate, as saying.
While accidents are relatively common on India's sprawling rail network, Friday's was among the deadliest in recent years. In 2016, 146 people were killed when a train slid off railroad tracks in eastern India.
Tokyo, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — An U.S. Navy helicopter crashed on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan on Friday, causing non-fatal injuries to sailors, the Navy said.
The Navy's 7th Fleet said in a statement that the MH-60 Seahawk crashed shortly after takeoff Friday morning while the carrier was off the Philippine coast.
All affected sailors were in stable condition and their injuries were non-life threatening, the Navy said. It didn't say how many sailors were hurt. It said some of them would be examined and treated after they reach the shore, though officials did not specify the destination.
The Navy did not give details on any damage to the helicopter or the aircraft carrier. But it said the ship was fully capable to conduct its mission for security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. The aircraft carrier also has since resumed flight training.
The Navy said the crash occurred while Ronald Reagan Strike Group was conducting routine operations in the Philippine Sea, which spreads north and northeast of the Philippines. The cause was under investigation.
USS Ronald Reagan participated in the international naval review hosted off the South Korean island of Jeju last week.
Kabul, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — A high-level meeting on security plans for Afghanistan's parliamentary elections had just concluded when an elite Afghan guard turned his gun on the departing delegation Thursday, killing the powerful Kandahar police chief but missing the top U.S. commander in the country, Gen. Scott Miller.
At least one other senior Afghan official was killed in the audacious assassination strike that was claimed by the Taliban and underscored the harrowing insecurity in Afghanistan two days before the elections and more than 17 years after the militant group was driven from power. A Taliban spokesman said Miller was the intended target.
However, Army Col. David Butler, who attended the meeting with Miller, said the powerful Kandahar police chief, Abdul Raziq, was clearly the target, not the U.S. general.
"It was pretty clear he was shooting at Raziq," Butler told The Associated Press, adding that Miller was nearby but not in the line of fire.
The delegates had just gathered for a group photo when gunfire broke out inside the provincial governor's compound in Kandahar city, according to an AP television cameraman who was there. Everyone scattered, and the U.S. participants scrambled toward their helicopter. But a firefight broke out between the U.S. service members and Afghan police when they tried to stop the U.S. delegation from reaching their helicopter, said the cameraman.
Besides Raziq, Kandahar's intelligence chief, Abdul Mohmin was killed in the attack, according to deputy provincial governor Agha Lala Dastageri. He said Kandahar Gov. Zalmay Wesa also died after being taken to a hospital, although security officials in the capital maintained Wesa was wounded but survived.
Three Americans — a U.S. service member, a coalition contractor and an American civilian — were injured and in stable condition, said NATO spokesman U.S. Col. Knut Peters.
Taliban spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi said the militant group carried out the attack, and Miller was the target.
Butler, however, said the assailant shot at Raziq and then appeared to spray the area with gunfire before he was killed.
He said Miller and the Afghan leaders had moved outside the palace after several hours of meetings and were standing in small groups in the compound. He said he heard several shots "and we all took cover. It was over in seconds."
"We stabilized and treated the wounded and secured the area," said Butler, adding that Miller made sure the scene was secure and the wounded were taken away by medivac before he left the area and returned to Kabul.
Razik was a particularly powerful figure in southern Kandahar and a close U.S. ally despite widespread allegations of corruption. He ruled the former Taliban heartland with an iron fist and had survived several past assassination attempts, including one last year that killed five diplomats from the United Arab Emirates.
Raziq's killing "may have major implications on the security situation in southern Afghanistan. As the chief of police in Kandahar, he has kept a lid on the Taliban's insurgency, which has intensified over the past several years," analyst Bill Roggio wrote in the Long War Journal.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt Saturday's parliamentary elections, warning teachers and students not to allow schools to be used for polling and warning Afghans to stay away from the polls.
Within hours of the attack, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani addressed the nation to assure Kandahar residents it was safe to go to the polls. In an AP interview, his adviser, Ziaulhaq Amarkhil, said the attack was meant to disrupt elections and urged voters to defy Taliban threats, saying casting their ballot "would be a big slap on the face of the enemy."
At a news conference in Kabul, army chief Gen. Mohammad Sharif Yaftali said additional troops had been moved from neighboring Helmand province to Kandahar.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the killing of the Kandahar police chief is unlikely to fundamentally weaken the security situation. Speaking while in Singapore for a conference, Mattis called Raziq's death a tragic loss but said he believes the Afghan security forces have matured to the point where they can continue fighting the Taliban without him.
The U.N. Security Council condemned the attacks and others recently in Afghanistan and said violence or threats intended to disrupt the elections were unacceptable.
Pakistan's new prime minister, Imran Khan, and its military chief condemned the assault.
"The people and the security forces of Afghanistan have been paying a heavy price due to continued instability and threats from the enemies of peace," Khan said in a statement. "Pakistan stands by the government and the people of Afghanistan in their quest for lasting peace and stability."
Security has been steadily deteriorating in Afghanistan with increasingly brazen attacks being carried out by insurgents and Afghanistan's security forces have been on high alert ahead of Saturday's elections.
Late Wednesday, a NATO convoy was attacked near the Afghan capital, killing two civilians and injuring five Czech troops, Afghan officials and the Czech military said Thursday.
The attack in the Bagram district of Parwan province, also wounded three Afghan civilians, said Wahida Shakar, spokeswoman for the provincial governor.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in Bagram, which is the home of a sprawling U.S. military base.
In recent months, Afghan troops have come under near-daily attacks. NATO troops, which handed over security to Afghan forces at the end of 2014, mostly train and assist with air power. So far this year, eight U.S. soldiers and three other NATO service members have died in Afghanistan.
Kuala Lumpur, Oct 19 (AP/UNB) — Malaysia's former deputy prime minister has been charged with abuse of power, corruption and money laundering involving millions of dollars in another graft investigation against the leaders ousted in shock election results earlier this year.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi now leads the opposition after his party was ousted in May's general elections. He was brought to court Friday, a day after he was detained by the anti-graft agency. He pleaded not guilty to eight counts of abusing his power, ten counts of criminal breach of trust and 27 counts of money laundering.
Former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife also were charged with graft after the elections.
Dozens of supporters from Zahid's United Malays National Organization rallied outside the court, slamming the charges as politically motivated.