Election observers pull foreign staff out of Afghanistan after hotel attack

KABUL: Two major foreign election observer and support missions have pulled staff out of Afghanistan after a Taliban attack on a Kabul hotel, observers said on Sunday, in a move which could undermine confidence in the outcome of the crucial vote.
The April 5 vote is less than two weeks away and could mark the country’s first democratic transfer of power. Many fear a repeat of the widespread fraud that discredited the poll in 2009 when about 20 percent of votes were thrown out. “It’s really bad news,” said Jandad Spingar, director at the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, the largest Afghan monitoring group. “Having international observers in the election is really, really important... (to) give legitimacy to the process.” The National Democratic Institute (NDI) said it had pulled its observers from the country, while a senior European diplomat said observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) had been pulled out to Turkey. The European Union’s international monitoring mission will be the only major one to remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban on Thursday attacked the heavily fortified Serena Hotel in central Kabul, where most foreign observers were staying. “We have withdrawn our staff that were staying at the Serena, and we are assessing our election monitoring activities,” said Kathy Gest, public affairs director at NDI. NDI observer Luis Maria Duarte was among the nine people killed and many of his colleagues were in the building when four gunmen with pistols sprayed diners at the hotel’s restaurant with bullets.

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Aaj Kal