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Afghan candidate gets scare

KABUL, Afghanistan — A bomb detonated by remote control exploded next to the convoy of President Hamid Karzai's running mate on Wednesday, killing at least one person and injuring as many as seven.

The vice presidential candidate, Ahmed Zia Massoud, was not hurt in the attack, in the northeastern province of Badakshan, which came three days before Afghanistan's first direct presidential election and came a month after a rocket attack against Karzai on a campaign trip.

Still, shortly after the bombing Wednesday, U.N. officials in Kabul said conditions for the election on Saturday were adequately free and fair "to allow the will of the Afghan people as a whole to translate at the polls, and the next president of Afghanistan to claim to represent the nation."

Jean Arnault, the U.N. secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, cited factors including the popular mobilization generated by voter registration, the beginnings of a political pluralism as reflected in the variety of candidates, continuing disarmament and the security effort by international and Afghan forces.

"This election shows a process of accelerated transition from the rule of the gun," Arnault said.

Other analysts, though, have expressed concern that threats of violence may depress turnout and prevent foreign election observers from doing their job.

About 300 foreign observers have come to Afghanistan for the election, but security concerns will confine most of them to urban centers. The Free and Fair Elections Foundation of Afghanistan said it had recruited 2,000 Afghan observers but would be able to post them with only about 30 percent of the electorate. There are an additional 3,000 thousand domestic observers.

There is also concern about a sudden increase in representatives of political parties registered to monitor the election.

But Arnault pointed to a surge in campaign activities in recent days as evidence that the process was working. On Wednesday, the last day permitted for campaigning, Karzai appeared at a rally in Kabul's stadium, his second in two days. Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, the strongman of northern Afghanistan and a presidential candidate, also conducted a rally at the stadium.

While most security concerns have focused on Afghanistan's south, the bombing on Wednesday occurred in the northeast. Although Massoud, one of Karzai's two running mates, was not hurt, among those injured was the former governor of Badakshan.