Taleban threatens Afghan polls, warn voters to stay away

KABUL (AFP) - Taleban insurgents threatened on Monday to attack Afghanistan's run-off presidential election, warning voters to stay away from polling stations for fear of injury or death.

Afghans are due to go to the polls on June 14 to choose whether Mr Ashraf Ghani or Mr Abdullah Abdullah should succeed President Hamid Karzai.

The militants, ousted from power in Kabul by a 2001 US-led invasion, threatened to attack the first round of voting on April 5 but the day passed off with a high turnout and no major security incidents.

In a statement in English on their website, the Taleban said their fighters "are once again fully prepared to operate against the workers and polling stations in the second phase of these counterfeit elections".

"Therefore, you (the masses) should remain far away from the polling stations on 14th June, 2014, lest you should be hurt or killed."

On Friday, Mr Ghani, a former World Bank economist, said if elected, he would put his name to a long-delayed security pact with the United States that Mr Karzai has refused to sign. Mr Abdullah has also said he would sign.

Mr Ghani's pledge came only days after US President Barack Obama said the 32,000 American forces in Afghanistan will be scaled back to 9,800 by early 2015 and complete a full withdrawal by the end of 2016.

Mr Ghani faces an uphill task after finishing second with 31.6 per cent - behind Mr Abdullah with 45 per cent - in the eight-candidate first round.

The Taleban last week denounced US plans to keep troops in Afghanistan until the end of 2016, threatening to wage war against the "occupation" until the very last foreign soldier pulls out.

The militants' statement on Monday quoted Islamic scripture to urge people to shun the poll, and poured scorn on the "cruel, corrupt" candidates and their Western backers.

A US general warned on Saturday that the Taleban would redouble efforts to disrupt the second-round vote. "I think the enemy is going to make a push on run-off day," said Major General Stephen Townsend, commander of Nato-led forces in eastern Afghanistan.

On Saturday, the Taleban freed the only US soldier in their custody, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, in exchange for five of their own senior figures held at Guantanamo Bay. The swap has ignited a political row in the United States but also raised hopes for peace as the US prepares to leave Afghanistan.

Washington has defended the swap as critical to saving Sergeant Bergdahl's life after five years in captivity but Republican lawmakers criticised it, saying the freed Taleban could still pose a threat to Americans.

Mullah Mohammad Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taleban, issued a rare statement praising the release of the Guantanamo five as a "big victory".

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