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Afghans optimistic about recovery from war, favor Karzai, poll shows

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(AP) - KABUL, Afghanistan - Two-thirds of Afghans say they are optimistic about the future but remain worried about insecurity and the ravaged economy, according to a survey released Tuesday.

A majority also approved of interim leader Hamid Karzai, the favorite in landmark presidential elections set for Oct. 9, according to a poll that claims it is the most extensive yet on Afghan public opinion.

Of those questioned, only 13 percent favored the ousted Taliban regime, saying they favored governance of the United Nations. Two-thirds approved of the United States involvement which ousted the repressive Islamic militia in late 2001.

The survey, commissioned by the Asia Foundation, a U.S.-based nongovernment group that seeks to foster development in the Asia-Pacific region, drew on interviews with 804 rural and urban Afghans from Feb. 22 to March 13 this year. The margin of error was 3.5 percentage points.

Pollsters didn\'t reach four of 34 provinces, including the Taliban stronghold of Uruzgan, because of poor security or lack of access. Voters might be less positive there. It was unclear how the survey overcame many Afghans'deep reluctance to criticize authorities.

Karzai seized on leaked parts the survey in the wake of the June 2 killing of five medical relief workers to claim that the economy, not security, was Afghans'top priority.

But the survey, designed by New York-based Charney Research to assist organizers of Afghanistan\'s first ever universal elections, was more nuanced.

Sixty-four percent of people thought the country was heading in the right direction, with just 11 percent saying it was going the wrong way.

Security was listed as the greatest \"national\" concern by 37 percent of respondents, ahead of the economy, at 29 percent.

But both the economy and the country\'s dilapidated or nonexistent infrastructure were seen as the greatest \"local\" problems.

Eighty-one percent said they planned to vote in national elections, which at the time of the survey included parliamentary polls now delayed until spring.

The pollsters didn\'t ask people who they planned to vote for - presidential nominations began only on Saturday. But 62 percent gave Karzai a rating of \"good\" or \"excellent.\"

Still, only 37 percent were confident the vote would be fair, backing the arguments of the Afghan government and the United Nations that the country\'s unruly militias must be disarmed first.