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Annan welcomes Afghanistan's unveiling of presidential, parliamentary poll dates

9 July 2004 Afghanistan will hold presidential elections on 9 October and delay national and local parliamentary elections until April 2005, its electoral authorities announced today in a decision welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The UN chief said the extra time offers "a very valuable opportunity to create better conditions for the holding of a free and fair parliamentary election," adding it allows voters and candidates to participate more meaningfully in the polls.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), the independent body mandated to conduct and supervise the elections, said it decided to delay the parliamentary elections after gathering the views of delegations, community representatives and elders.

In a statement issued in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the JEMB said the "minimum requirements" for holding parliamentary elections had not been reached and it would be unfair to many political parties and independent candidates to rush the process.

Electoral law requires the poll date to be declared at least 90 days in advance, and the JEMB said the Afghan Government's Cabinet recommended the legislative elections be held within a month of the presidential poll, slated now for 9 October.

More than 6 million people have registered to vote - from an estimated pool of 9.5 million eligible voters - since last December but registration levels are uneven across the country. In 19 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, for example, voter registration is below 50 per cent and many candidates would find nomination difficult.

The JEMB said a further delay is necessary because of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which begins in November this year, and the harsh winter in Afghanistan, when travel becomes difficult for many months.

In a statement released by his spokesman, Mr. Annan backed the JEMB's decision and said he was convinced that the elections - Afghanistan's first in many years - will be conducted successfully.

But he reiterated his concerns about the safety of electoral workers and the overall electoral process, condemning recent deadly attacks. A female electoral worker was killed yesterday when a vehicle in which she was travelling was hit by an explosion near Jalalabad in the east, and two others were killed in the same area a fortnight ago.

The Secretary-General said it was essential that the disarmament process is accelerated and the authorities meet targets outlined at the Berlin Conference earlier this year.

"This has been and will continue, in the eyes of the Afghans, to be one of the most important benchmarks for the holding of a genuine, democratic election," he said.

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