Government forces battled suspected Taliban (search) terrorists in heavy fighting near the Pakistan (search) border, leaving 31 militants dead, the Defense Ministry said Monday.

In two cities, Afghans demonstrated over the killing of a candidate in last month's parliamentary elections.

Provisional results from the Sept. 18 elections are expected in days, with the final tally due Oct. 22. In all, eight candidates have been killed during the campaign and its aftermath — the latest being minority Hazara candidate Ashraf Ramazan, slain in a drive-by shooting in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif on Sept. 27.

Thousands of Hazaras, who make up some 10 percent of Afghanistan's (search) 25 million people, protested in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif, demanding Ramazan's brother take the parliament seat if the dead candidate gets the most votes. Ramazan was seeking one of the 11 seats in the national legislature from the province of Balkh.

The fighting with heavy weapons in eastern Afghanistan lasted more than four hours late Sunday after militants attacked an Afghan army position near Angore Adda in Paktika province, military officials said.

The militants left behind 28 bodies of their fighters, and four Afghan army soldiers were injured, one seriously, Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Zaher Azimi said. No U.S.-led coalition forces took part, he said. There was no independent confirmation of the toll.

Gen. Shorgul, a deputy Afghan regional corps commander who uses only one name, said the militants had come across the border from Pakistan and fled back afterward.

A senior Pakistani army official rejected that claim as "absolutely baseless," saying they had sealed the border to stop militant incursions.

In a separate clash, militants attacked a truck carrying supplies for coalition forces in eastern Paktia province, killing the driver, Azimi said.

In fighting that followed, three more militants were killed and two arrested. Two Afghan army officers were wounded, he said.

The parliamentary election in which saw 6.8 million Afghans voted for new national and provincial assemblies, is seen as a key step toward democracy and shifting from a climate of war to peace. Several former Taliban officials are standing as candidates.

Mohammed Mohaqeq, the main Hazara leader who ran against Hamid Karzai for president last year and lost, threatened a hunger strike unless Ramazan's killer was brought to justice.

"I ask the international community, where is the security that you have promised us? And I ask Karzai, where is the justice that you have promised?" Mohaqeq told a rally in Kabul of 4,000 people.

Protesters accused a Karzai-appointed governor in northern Balkh province, ethnic Tajik leader Atta Mohammed, of being behind the killing.

"Death to Atta! The Balkh governor is a criminal!" they shouted.

Partial results show Ramazan was in fourth place in the vote count in Balkh, where he was seeking one of the province's 11 legislative seats. The protesters demanded his brother, who did not contest the election, take his place in parliament. According to the election law, the candidate with the next-most votes would take the vacant seat.

On Tuesday, the Japanese Cabinet approved a one-year extension of the country's military mission in the Indian Ocean by a year in support of U.S.-led troops in Afghanistan, the Kyodo news agency said.

Japan's navy has provided fuel for coalition warships in the region since November 2001 under a special law that was to expire on Nov. 1. The bill will now be sent to Parliament where it is expected to pass.