Karzai votes for female Hindu candidate: sources

KABUL Sat Sep 18, 2010 3:12pm EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai chose a female, Hindu candidate when he voted in Saturday's parliamentary election, two palace officials close to him said.

Just two Hindu candidates were on the list of about 600 vying for parliamentary seats in the Afghan capital. Karzai's choice could annoy supporters in deeply conservative, Muslim Afghanistan.

His backers include powerful ex-warlords who were fielding their own candidates and religious conservatives who are opposed to female politicians and unlikely to be happy Karzai is backing a non-Muslim.

"It was Anar Kali Honaryar," one palace official told Reuters, giving the name of a female activist who largely relied on Muslim supporters during her campaigning.

Hindus lived in Afghanistan and dominated trade long before the advent of Islam in the 7th century.

Their numbers shrank over the centuries and tens of thousands of those who remained fled Afghanistan after civil war broke out in 1992, leaving just a few thousand behind.

Women are a minority in Afghan public life, although 25 percent of the 249 seats in parliament are reserved for them.

Many of the 406 female candidates running in the election have been a particular target for threats and intimidation, and overall women's grip on rights won since the 2001 ouster of the Taliban -- like education and the vote -- remains tenuous.

Karzai's wife joined the millions of Afghans who did not make it to the polls -- although not because of the security concerns or frustration about corruption that kept others away.

The couple's only child is sick and she did not want to leave him alone, Karzai told a female election worker who later recounted the conversation to a Reuters reporter.

(Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Janet Lawrence)

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