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Reuters, September 18, 2010

Afghans scrub fingers clean to cast extra votes

"I voted and you see my finger is washed clean of ink," said voter Bashir Ahmad, waving his clean digit.

By Hamid Shalizi

KABUL - Some Afghan voters scrubbed their fingers clean of supposedly indelible ink on Saturday in a bid to return to cast extra votes in a parliamentary election the government has acknowledged will be flawed.

Students wash ink with detergent in elections
The Guardian, Aug. 20, 2009: Voters wash ink from their fingers using detergent outside Naderia high school in Kabul. (Photo: Jon Boone)

An ink-stained fingertip is meant to mark out those who have already cast ballots in the second parliamentary election since the fall of the Taliban government in 2001. But voters, campaign workers and observers say some ink batches are washed off easily.

A presidential election last year was marred by widespread fraud, with more than a third of votes cast for President Hamid Karzai later thrown out as fake. The government has promised a cleaner poll this year.

Karzai has said irregularities were expected. By late morning, election monitors and security forces had uncovered hundreds of fake voter registration cards along with efforts to vote more than once.

Police in Kabul detained a young man who was successfully cleaning his finger just outside a polling station in the capital. An angry campaign worker demonstrated how one brand of ink could be removed with little effort.

"We have to raise our voice. The black ink doesn't go, but the blue colour disappears. They should all be using the black ink, to accomplish their task properly," said Mohammed Fawad, keeping watch over the poll for one candidate in Kabul.

In western Herat city, voters who complained to officials about anti-fraud measures said they had used bleach to remove the ink stain.

"I voted and you see my finger is washed clean of ink," said voter Bashir Ahmad, waving his clean digit.

There were other signs of fraud. A campaigner for candidate Haji Abdul Latif Ahmadzai, in southern Logar province, was caught with 300 fake voter cards, security officials said.

Police said they also detained a man with 500 fake voter registration cards in eastern Jalalabad city.

Election officials said before the poll that thousands of fake voter registration cards had been found across Afghanistan.

In southern Helmand province, a spokesman for the provincial governor said the daughter of a female candidate had turned up at a polling station with 1,500 valid voter registration cards and tried to cast their ballots on their behalf.

Security is huge problem in Helmand, where many areas are effectively under Taliban control, and women are often forbidden from travelling to polling stations by their husbands or fathers.

In other unstable parts of the country, the Taliban persuaded many voters to stay home -- but may also have given some a better reason for wanting to clean their fingers.

In Logar province, just south of Kabul, the Taliban sent out night letters, or anonymous warnings posted on village walls, that they would cut off any fingers marked with indelible ink.

"I don't want to go and vote because of the Taliban's intimidation. I don't want to risk my life, just for a candidate," said one Logar resident named Naveed.

(Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Paul Tait)

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