Millions of Afghans Flock to Polls in Landmark Election
"The turnout was far beyond what we had imagined," says election official
Afghans headed to polls in high numbers on Saturday in what has been described as landmark election for the country's future leader.
"I have suffered so much from the fighting and I want prosperity and security in Afghanistan," said Nazia Azizi, a 40-year-old housewife voting in Kabul. "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."
It is the third election since 2001, and the first time since then that the elected leader will not be Hamid Karzai.
An estimated 7 million Afghans, about 60 percent of eligible voters, are said to have cast ballots.
"The turnout was far beyond what we had imagined," said Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail, a senior Afghan election official.
Yet "it was not all good news," the Guardian's Emma Graham-Harrison reports from Kabul:
The election in some rural areas dominated by insurgents sounded like another vote entirely, with villagers steering clear of voting stations after the Taliban warned them to stay away, commanders taking ballot-boxes to stuff at their leisure, and rocket, bomb and gun attacks.
At least one person was killed, several others injured and more than 200 polling stations closed at the last minute because of security threats. But multiple rings of tight security, with Kabul virtually shut down for days before the election, appear to have prevented any major Taliban attacks.
One question facing the next leader is whether to sign the bilateral security agreement, which Karzai has refused to sign. The agreement would keep U.S. troops occupying the country beyond the end of 2014.
On Friday, award-winning Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed and AP reporter Kathy Gannon was wounded when an Afghan police officer opened fire on their vehicle in the eastern town of Khost. The two were traveling with a convoy of election workers.
The UK's Telegraph has video: