Afghans vote amid militant threat

KABUL: Afghans have voted in the country’s second presidential election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The vote passed off without major violence, despite sporadic attacks by Taliban who had vowed to disrupt it.

Reports suggest turnout was patchy — although polling was extended. Fewer people voted in the south, where militant influence is greater.

President Hamid Karzai, running for a second term, faces competition from dozens of rivals. Polls officially closed at 5 this evening after being kept open for an extra hour.

The election follows a lively campaign period in which dozens of candidates vied for the presidency - but it was marred by violent attacks and frequent complaints of pre-election corruption and fraud. Some 300,000 Afghan and international troops were on patrol to prevent attacks.

Violent incidents around the country


Taliban militants stormed a town in Baghlan, northern Afghanistan, preventing polling stations from opening, according to the police. At least eight died in ensuing clashes with police

Taliban militants set fire to a bus on the Kandahar-Kabul highway in Ghazni, after offloading passengers and the driver, reportedly as punishment for violating a Taliban ban on using the road

Rockets hitting houses in Khost and Kandahar provinces killed two women and several children

Also in Khost, a civilian car hit a roadside bomb, killing one person and injuring three

Two suicide bombers on a motorbike in Gardez, Paktia province, were killed before hitting their target, police said

In northern Baghlan province, a district police chief was killed when Taliban militants attacked a police post

In Kabul, the bodies of two alleged militants were recovered after a gun battle with police in a residential district - the police said they were suicide bombers but it is unclear whether they blew themselves up or were shot dead.

The polls, which also see voters electing members to provincial councils, are the first organised primarily by Afghans themselves.

The vast majority of the country’s 6,969 polling stations were able to open despite the security threat, the UN said. Despite repeated blasts being heard in Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital of

militant stronghold Helmand province, lots of voters came out, though in Kandahar turnout appeared to be low.

Opinion polls put support for Hamid Karzai, one of more than 30 candidates, at about 45 per cent with his former Foreign Minister, Abdullah Abdullah, in second place with 25 per cent. His other two main opponents are the independent candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and ex-World Bank official Ramazan Bashardost.

Official preliminary results are not expected until 2 September, with the full final results scheduled for 17 September, but there may be earlier indications of the results. If the winning candidate fails to gain more than 50 per cent of the vote today, there will be a second-round run-off in October.