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Afghan candidates stump for peaceful vote, but offer few specific plans

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ Afghanistan's vice president on Friday urged his countrymen to participate in historic presidential elections, saying a failed vote could lead to renewed war and bloodshed in a nation that has endured both for decades.

Karim Khalili told about 2,000 people at a Shiite Mosque that the Oct. 9 election was a major step toward bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan. But he gave no specifics on what he President Hamid Karzai would do with five more years in power.

``All Afghan people should participate in the election. If they don't, I'm sure those who favor war and all the problems of the past will prevail,'' said Khalili, who is also a Shiite Muslim and a member of the nation's Hazara ethnic community.

Khalili did not mention Karzai's name during his remarks, and said he hoped only that all Afghans vote for the candidate they prefer.

It was one of the few campaign rallies held in Afghanistan ahead of the vote. Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum drew about 8,000 people to a rally in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this week. Another candidate, former Education Minister Yunus Qanooni, was holding a rally that drew several hundred people in the western city of Herat on Friday.

Karzai's office had hinted he might attend the gathering Friday at Khatam-ul-Anbiya, one of the largest Shiite mosques in Kabul, but the president did not show up.

Karzai, the overwhelming favorite to beat 17 rivals, has rarely ventured into public since formal campaigning began last month, though he inaugurated a new museum in Kabul earlier in the week. He escaped a Sept. 16 attack on a U.S. military helicopter taking him to a school-opening in the eastern city of Gardez.

Khalili told the crowd that the Oct. 9 vote would send a message to the world that ``Afghans want peace, security and stability in their country.''

``We Afghan people have been at war for more than 20 years. We have passed through a very difficult period, but finally we have reached the day where we will have an election in our country,'' he said.

About 400 supporters of a rival Shiite Muslim candidate, Mohammed Mohaqeq, gathered outside the mosque, waving banners for Mohaqeq and shouting that it was time for Karzai to leave office.

``We don't want Karzai to be in power forever,'' said Hafiz Ahmad, 22. ``There should be an opportunity for other people. We need jobs. We need security, and we need help for the refugees who are coming back to the country.''

About 50 Afghan police were on hand, but there was no violence.

Another man, Ahmed Zia, said he would vote for Karzai, who is a member of Afghanistan's Pashtun majority.

``Even though I am a Hazara like Mohaqeq, I plan to vote for Karzai,'' Zia said. I don't think we should vote based just on ethnicity.''
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