Afghanistan election: Voters defy Taliban threats to cast votes for new president in historic poll

Eight candidates are hoping to succeed current president Hamid Karzai

People in Afghanistan have been lining up to vote for a new president in historic elections that promise to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power.

Amid tight security, men and women arrived at polling stations more than an hour before they opened in Kabul and elsewhere.

Eight candidates are hoping to succeed current president Hamid Karzai, who cannot seek a third consecutive term under the constitution.

The Taliban have vowed to disrupt proceedings, which have been marred by the shooting of two journalists on Friday, when an Afghan policeman opened fire while they were sitting in their car in eastern Afghanistan.

Anja Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly, according to an APTelevision freelancer who witnessed the shooting.

More than 350,000 Afghan troops are in position to thwart attacks on polling stations and voters and Kabul has been sealed off from the rest of the country by rings of roadblocks and checkpoints.

 

The Taliban have warned civilians they would be targeted if they try to vote, and at least 10 per cent of polling stations are expected to be shut due to security threats.

"I call on the people of Afghanistan to prove to the enemies of Afghanistan that nothing can stop them," Yousaf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission (IEC) told reporters after he cast his own vote in Kabul.

Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife, was the first in line to cast her vote at a school in eastern Kabul.

"I have suffered so much from the fighting and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan. That is why I have come here to cast my vote," she said.

"I hope that the votes that we are casting will be counted and that there will be no fraud in this election."

Three men are considered top contenders in the race - a major shift from past elections dominated by Mr Karzai, who has ruled the country since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

There do not appear to be major policy differences toward the West between the front-runners - Abdullah Abdullah, Mr Karzai's main rival in the last election; Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official; and Zalmai Rassoul, a former foreign minister.

However, no one candidate is expected to take the 50 per cent of votes needed, meaning the two with the most could go head to head in a second round on 28 May.

Additional reporting by agencies

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