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10 October 2004

Afghanistan Elections

Afghans give democracy a chance
Declan Walsh Chuquri

Chuquri has seen a century's worth of battles. British colonists, Soviet soldiers and the black-turbanned Taliban have variously marched, bombed or shot their way through the mud-walled, hilltop hamlet.

But at 7.55 yesterday morning the fight for power in Afghanistan took on a new dimension, when 70-year-old Mohammed Zaffar cast the battered village's first vote. 'I prayed, had breakfast and came here. I thought about who to vote for on the way,' explained the one-time Mujahedeen holy warrior, now a wrinkled wheat farmer. 'And now I expect it will bring good things.'

Behind him, a slow trickle of turbanned men braved the sharp morning chill to enter the barbed wire enclosure. Some arrived by donkey, others drove herds of sheep. And in an ominous hint of the row that threatened the entire poll a few hours later, the polling station registration clerk struggled to understand how he would apply a small bottle of indelible ink to voters' hands.

Millions of Afghans flooded to the polls yesterday, bringing with them hopes that a tick on a ballot box would also mark the closing chapter of a 25-year sage of bloodshed, war and suffering.

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