Hair-raising week in Afghanistan for MEP

EAST Anglian MEP Richard Howitt is today appreciating the peace and quiet of his constituency home after a hair-raising week monitoring parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

EAST Anglian MEP Richard Howitt is today appreciating the peace and quiet of his constituency home after a hair-raising week monitoring parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.

During his visit to the war-torn country he had to be evacuated from a polling station after a riot broke out.

His base in the capital Kabul was just minutes away from a rocket attack from Taliban extremists.

And he flew around the country in a 20-year-old former Soviet helicopter that was prone to breaking down.

The Labour MEP told The Evening Star: “It was quite terrifying at times. The whole trip really was quite dangerous.

“Frankly I didn't tell my partner how dangerous it was before I went out there because she would have worried the whole time.”

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He was part of a seven-strong delegation of MEPs monitoring the first parliamentary elections in the country for more than 30 years.

He visited three locations - the border area with Iran which is in the hands of local warlords, the central highlands, and Kabul itself.

He said: “It was very worrying, we were guarded at all times by private security men, some were former SAS soldiers.

“You needed to be well protected - we couldn't go to the Pakistan border because that's where the Taliban is still very active and Bin Laden is holed up somewhere.”

His most scary encounter was in the central highlands. He said: “We were in an old helicopter that broke down. One of the guards got out and tackled it with a screwdriver. It got started again, but it was very nerve-wracking.”

But despite the danger, he felt the visit was worthwhile to give international legitimacy to the elections.

He said: "It was remarkable to see the courage and determination of the Afghan people to take part in the election, despite violent intimidation from the Taliban and foreign insurgents. It really was a victory for democracy over terrorism.

"We cannot afford to walk away from this country, which is at the heart of global terrorism, and produces 80 per cent of the heroin on Europe's streets.”

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