Gunmen kill provincial Afghan election chief

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Assassins on a motorbike gunned down a senior election official in northern Afghanistan on Wednesday, raising fears that the presidential vote due in April will trigger a surge in violence.

Amanullah Aman, the head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kunduz province, was killed by unknown gunmen outside his home in Kunduz city.

He was the first election official killed since candidate nominations opened on Monday. All potential runners in the wide-open race to succeed President Hamid Karzai must declare themselves by October 6.

"Aman was shot dead in the morning in front of his house as he was leaving for his office," Kunduz provincial spokesman Enayatullah Khaliq told AFP.

"Two men on motorcycles opened fire on his car and severely wounded him, he later died in the hospital."

Deputy police chief Ebadullah Talwar confirmed the death, adding that Aman was murdered in Kunduz city after going grocery shopping and was not accompanied by any bodyguards.

Kunduz is in the more peaceful north of Afghanistan, but it is a hotbed of Islamist insurgent activity.

The province, which borders on Tajikistan, is also a major route for drug trafficking and has a volatile mix of rival ethnic groups and armed militia.

Taliban rebels, who are opposed to the elections, have often targeted government officials across the country.