Afghans brave Taliban attacks to vote

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The Independent Online

Despite Taliban rocket strikes and bombings, Afghans voted for a new parliament, the first election since a fraud-marred presidential ballot last year cast doubt on the legitimacy of the embattled government.

As officials tally votes over the next few days, the real test begins: Afghans will have to decide whether to accept the results as legitimate despite a modest turnout and early evidence of fraud.

The Taliban had pledged to disrupt the vote and launched attacks starting with a rocket fired into the capital before dawn yesterday.

The insurgent group followed with a series of morning rocket strikes that hit major cities just as people were going to the polls - or weighing whether to risk it.

At least 11 civilians and three police officers were killed, according to the Interior Ministry.

The governor of Kandahar province survived a bombing as he drove between voting sites. In all, there were 33 bomb explosions and 63 rocket attacks, said Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. He said 27 Taliban were killed.

Yet there appeared to be less violence than during the last election, when more than 30 civilians were killed and a group of insurgents attacked Kabul.

Afghan security officials dismissed the attacks as "insignificant" and said they did not hamper voting, adding that 92 % of polling stations were open.

Many of those who voted said they were determined to be heard over the Taliban.

Though there were lines and bustling crowds at some stations, that appeared to be the exception. Observers across the country reported fewer voters than a year ago, even though the number of sites had been cut to help authorities provide better security.

Defence Minister Wardak described the turnout as "low." He said that fear of attacks and the difficulty of getting to polling stations were likely reasons people stayed home.

The election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but said late yesterday that 3.6 million people cast ballots at the 86% of polling stations that had reported figures so far. Nearly six million ballots were cast in the presidential vote last year, out of 17 million registered voters.

About 2,500 candidates were vying for 249 seats in the parliament.

A host of allegations of fraud and election worker misconduct piled up in the first few hours of the vote.

Candidate monitors complained that the ink applied to voters' fingers to prevent them from casting multiple ballots was not working.

In Jalalabad, observers said poll workers were letting people vote with fake registration cards.

Fake voter cards flooded into Afghanistan ahead of the balloting, but election officials had promised that poll workers were trained to spot them.

Gen. David Petraeus, the commander for Nato's troops in Afghanistan, praised Afghans who braved threats to vote, as did the United Nations, European Union, the United States and Canada.

The first partial vote tallies are expected early next week. Full preliminary results are not expected until the end of the month and final results in late October, after fraud complaints are investigated.



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