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6 October 2004 -- Campaigning in Afghanistan's presidential election drew to a close today amid violence, as the country prepares to cast ballots in its first direct popular vote on 9 October.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is generally regarded as the favorite to win the balloting, although a two-way runoff will be held if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

Karzai said at a rally in Kabul today that the election will decide the fate of the country "for centuries."

Two of the 18 candidates withdrew today from the contest in favor of Karzai, including Sayyed Eshaq Gailani. Correspondents suggested those moves could help him gain the required majority to avoid a runoff in November.

The end of campaigning was marked by violence today when Karzai's first vice-presidential running mate, Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, escaped injury when an explosion hit his convoy in northeastern Afghanistan.

One person was killed and two injured in the blast, for which the Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful warlord and rival presidential candidate with a power base in the north of the country, also addressed an election rally in Kabul today. He said Afghanistan has received millions of dollars in aid but has little reconstruction to show for it.

(Reuters/AP)

For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated webpage "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05."
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