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Refugees defy diktat
- Afghan exiles in vote rush

Islamabad, Oct. 4 (Reuters): More than 650,000 Afghan refugees living in Pakistan have registered to vote in their country's first direct presidential polls next weekend, despite warnings not to do so from Islamic militants.

The International Organisation for Migration, a UN affiliate that organised the four-day registration process in Pakistan, said it went off without violence or injuries.

The IOM estimated it had registered more than 650,000 Afghans by the time its offices closed today, but final figures would only be available once data came in from the field overnight. Peter Erben, director of the registration programme, called it a 'significant success'.

'The response of the Afghan community in Pakistan has been very enthusiastic,' he said. The October 9 poll will give Afghans their first chance to elect a leader directly and US-backed President Hamid Karzai, installed after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001, is the favourite to win. Afghans are registering to vote in defiance of threats from Taliban guerrillas, who have called the polls a 'sham'.

Before registration started on Friday, the guerrillas distributed leaflets in refugee camps in Pakistan saying anyone who killed a poll worker would earn a divine reward and those who registered to vote would face punishment.

The IOM said it had the capacity to register up to 800,000 eligible voters at 1,600 sites in Pakistan, out of a total Afghan refugee population in the country estimated at two million to three million.

But the registration had to be carried out within a limited timeframe and over a limited area because of a delay in reaching an agreement on procedures between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Taliban attacks

Afghanistan's historic presidential election is now unstoppable, the US said today, but other officials warned of more attacks by Taliban rebels and their al Qaida allies before Saturday's vote.

In the latest violence, Afghan troops killed at least seven Taliban gunmen today in the southern province of Uruzgan.

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