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Afghans flock to the polls


SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

Afghans flock to the polls

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghans flocked to polling stations nationwide today, defying a threat of violence by the Taliban to cast ballots in what promises to be the nation’s first democratic transfer of power.
The turnout was so high that some polling centres ran out of ballots.
The excitement over choosing a new leader for the first time appeared to overwhelm the fear of bloodshed in many areas, as Afghans embarked on a major transition nearly 13 years after the United States-led invasion toppled the rule of the Taliban.
President Hamid Karzai, the only leader the country has known since the Islamic movement was ousted, is on his way out, constitutionally barred from a third term. International combat troops are leaving by the end of the year and Afghans are left largely on their own to face what is likely to be an intensified campaign by the Taliban to regain power, even as authorities face higher public demands to tackle entrenched poverty and corruption.
Men in traditional tunics and loose trousers and women clad in all-encompassing burkas waited in segregated lines at polls under tight security. At a Kandahar hospital-turned-polling station, the men’s line stretched from the building, through the courtyard and out into the street. In Helmand province, women pushed, shoved and argued as they pressed forward in a long line.
The vote is the first for Afghans in which the outcome is uncertain. Voters are choosing from a field of eight presidential candidates, as well as selecting provincial council members. With three front-runners in the presidential race, a runoff was widely expected since none is likely to get the majority needed for an outright victory.
“I went to sleep with my mind made up to wake up early and to have my say in the matter of deciding who should be next one to govern my nation,” said Saeed Mohammad, a 29-year-old mechanic in the southern city of Kandahar.
“I want to be a part of this revolution and I want to fulfil my duty by casting my vote so that we can bring change and show the world that we love democracy.”
Hundreds of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers fanned out across the country, searching cars at checkpoints and blocking vehicles from getting close to polling stations. Some voters were searched three times in Kabul, and text messages were blocked in an apparent attempt to prevent candidates from last-minute campaigning.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the balloting by targeting polling centres and election workers, and in the past weeks they stepped up attacks in the heart of Kabul to show they are capable of striking even in highly secured areas.
Today, a bomb exploded in a school packed with voters in the Mohammad Agha district of Logar province, wounding two men, one seriously, said local government spokesman Din Mohammad Darwesh.
Rocket attacks and gun battles forced authorities to close an additional 211 polling centres, raising the total number that weren’t opened because of security concerns to 959, said Independent Election Commission chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani.
He said in all, 6 212 polling centres were opened today.
 

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