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Insurgent rockets seek to disrupt Afghan vote

KABUL, Afghanistan — A rocket slammed into the Afghan capital and three others struck the eastern city of Jalalabad early today — apparent warnings from insurgents trying to scare people from voting in the nation's parliamentary elections, officials said.

No casualties were reported in the attacks just hours before polling centers were to open across Afghanistan, where 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the parliament.

The elections — the first since a fraud-ridden presidential poll a year ago — are seen both as a test of the Afghan government's commitment to rooting out corruption and as a measure of the strength of the insurgency.

Hanging in the balance is the willingness of the U.S.-led international coalition to continue supporting Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government with 140,000 troops and billions of dollars nearly nine years into the war.

Afghan police officer Mohammad Abrahim in Kabul said one rocket landed around 4 a.m. in the yard of Afghanistan's state-owned television station, a couple of blocks from the presidential palace, NATO headquarters and the U.S. Embassy. In Nangarhar province, three rockets were fired at a military base on the eastern edge of Jalalabad, according to Ahmedzia Abdulzai, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

The Taliban have written threats on leaflets passed out at mosques, whispered them in villages and posted Internet messages saying those who cast ballots should be prepared to be attacked. How many Afghans ignore this intimidation campaign and turn out at the polls will be one measure of whether the vote is considered a success.

On the eve of the balloting, the head of a voting center in southern Helmand province was killed when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb — a reminder that the insurgent group usually makes good on its threats. At least 24 people have been killed in election-related violence in the run-up to the vote, including four candidates, according to observers.

The U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, told reporters in Islamabad on Friday that he knows the parliamentary elections will have plenty of problems.

"They're going to be flawed," Holbrooke said. "We've had experience in our country with flawed elections, and not in the middle of a war. We're not looking for perfection here."

"You'll want to look at how much the Taliban are able to disrupt" the balloting, he added.

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