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News in Kabul, Afghanistan

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Security forces said they thwarted four rebel bombings, including an attempt to blow up a big dam, underscoring fears for Sunday's vote that many hope will marginalize insurgents and bolster a fragile democracy.

Top U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said extremists had failed to disrupt preparations for the polls despite fighting that has killed more than 1,200 people in the past six months, including seven candidates and four election workers.

"We are very confident that those extremists will also fail to disrupt and derail voting day," Arnault told reporters.

Chief election organizer Bismillah Bismil appealed to voters to participate and not be "intimidated or frightened" by the threats of more bloodshed.

A U.S. military spokesman, Col. James Yonts, predicted "a massive number" of voters would turn out, telling The Associated Press that "this election will send a powerful message to the Taliban that their influence is waning."

Their comments came a day after the Taliban called for a boycott of the polls. They said they would not attack civilians going to vote but would target areas where U.S.-led coalition forces were deployed - and advised people to avoid such places.

The elections for a new parliament and 34 provincial councils are the last formal step for Afghanistan on the path to democracy laid out with international support after U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban from power four years ago.

Many hope the vote will help the country claw its way out of a spiral of violence that started with the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

"We are seeing today an unmistakable confirmation that there is in the country the emergence of a new political culture," Arnault said. "A sense that the legacy of the rule of the gun can be resisted is now taking root."

About 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops are on alert across the country to safeguard the election. In Kabul, road checkpoints have sprung up, with police pulling over vehicles ranging from hay carts to ribbon-decked wedding cars.

In neighboring Pakistan, thousands of troops deployed near the Afghan border went on alert. Militants based in tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the mountainous frontier are believed to cross into Afghanistan to launch attacks.

In the southern city of Kandahar, all vehicles were banned from driving after midday Saturday due to fears the militants would use car bombs.

In an unusually brazen attack on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul, militants ambushed a security patrol, killing a district police chief and two officers, said Interior Ministry spokesman Luftullah Mashal.
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