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Security tightened as Afghans vote

Security has been tightened across Afghanistan ahead of a presidential election this weekend.

Afghan police and soldiers are manning checkpoints at almost every intersection, searching vehicles and banning trucks from the streets.

Insurgents have intensified attacks ahead of Saturday's run-off vote, and the Taliban have issued a new statement warning voters to stay away from the polls.

The first round in April passed relatively peacefully, but a recent assassination attempt against one of the two presidential hopefuls left in the race has raised fears.

Still, a senior UN envoy expressed confidence that Afghan voters will turn out as they did in the first round on April 5.

Jan Kubis also called on candidates Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai to give electoral authorities time to tally the ballots and resolve any complaints about fraud.

He was referring to the likelihood that the campaigns will start releasing their tallies from monitors at polling sites before formal results are announced.

The official timetable is for preliminary results to be announced on July 2 and final results on July 22 in order to allow time for ballots to be secured and fraud complaints investigated.

The stakes are high as the winner will replace President Hamid Karzai, a one-time US ally whose relations with Washington have soured, in the first peaceful democratic transfer of power in the country's history.

Mr Karzai has governed the country since the Taliban were ousted following the US invasion in 2001. Mr Karzai is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term.

The Obama administration is watching closely. Both candidates have pledged to sign a security pact with the US that would allow thousands of international forces to stay in Afghanistan in a largely training and advisory capacity. Mr Karzai has refused to sign it.

Afghan security forces were widely praised for the April 5 elections, which were held without major violence despite a series of deadly attacks in the weeks beforehand.

Mr Karzai held a video conference with commanders to urge them to remain impartial and refrain from interfering in the second round balloting.

"All forces must provide the opportunity for the people to cast their votes," he said, according to a statement released by the presidential palace.

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