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Other News: Taliban Threat Looms on Eve of Afghan Vote

August 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: In other news today, a wave of fresh attacks hit Afghanistan one day before the country goes to the polls. Six American troops died across the country; six election workers were killed in militant attacks.

In Kabul, a long gun battle broke out between insurgents and police. We have a report from John Ray of Independent Television News.

JOHN RAY: Kabul woke to the sound of gunfire, as the Taliban seized a bank in the city center. Three fighters were killed, all this close to the presidential palace.

A Soviet-era slum that is home to 60 families, no power, no water, and little hope. Here we meet the Khan family, who fled the Taliban but returned on the government’s promise of a better life. It has not worked out like that.

“It’s very hard,” says Besmina. “Some days I have to choose which children will eat and which will go hungry.”

MUSSAFAIR KHAN (through translator): The election is very important, and we will definitely vote. We want a president who is kind and will work for us and work for the country.

JOHN RAY: But in Helmand province, many polling stations will not open, and the Taliban have threatened anyone who dares vote, while in Kabul the safest way to patrol the city is with the American military keeping a watchful eye.

But on the ground, it’s the Afghan police and army in charge. There are checkpoints everywhere.

The atmosphere here is very tense. The security, as you can see, never tighter. The fact there will be an election tomorrow is a sign of progress, but for many ordinary Afghanis, democracy has promised much, but delivered very little.

At the local market, we find a mixture of cynicism and fear.

AFGHAN MAN: The people will feel fear, and they will not come to election to vote, to put vote.

AFGHAN MAN: People is not — they are not thinking the election is fair, but they are thinking that the presidentials are already selected by the foreign countries.

JOHN RAY: Over the mountains, they follow a path they’ve used for centuries, but only the second time they’ve carried ballot boxes for presidential elections. Nothing here is easy, not least the task of delivering democracy to a nation divided.

JIM LEHRER: Polls will be open for nine hours tomorrow. Preliminary results from the election are not expected until Saturday.

The government of Saudi Arabia announced the arrests of 44 suspected Islamic militants today. The roundup took place over the past year, and Saudi officials said some of those arrested have close links to al-Qaida. Many of the suspects had advanced science degrees and had received training on preparing explosives and using weapons.

The U.S. government urged businesses across the country to get ready for the upcoming flu season today. The new guidelines came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They included letting workers with flu symptoms stay home and encouraging vaccination for both seasonal and swine flu. And businesses were told to keep work areas clean and encourage hand-washing.

In Washington, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said the effort will only succeed if businesses do their part.

GARY LOCKE: If an employee shows symptoms during the workday, the CDC recommends that that employee be asked to go home. In America, we love to praise the Puritan work ethic, and with reason. But this fall, it would serve the country better to praise common sense and responsibility.

JIM LEHRER: Companies were also advised to let at-risk employees — like pregnant women and people with chronic diseases– get vaccinated first. The government plans to have 45 million doses of the swine flu vaccine on hand by mid-October.

On Wall Street today, stocks and oil prices were up after a government report showed oil inventories were depleted, indicating energy demand is rising. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 61 points to close at 9,279. The Nasdaq rose 13 points to close at 1,969.

The price of crude oil climbed more than 4 percent. In New York trading, the cost of a barrel passed $72.