Polls close in Afghan election after heavy turnout for crucial vote

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Afghan women receive their ballots to vote at a polling station in the northwestern city of Herat on April 5, 2014 (AFP Photo/Aref Karimi)
Polling stations in Afghanistan have closed after a heavy turnout for Saturday\’s historic presidential election.
The turnout was so high for the country\’s first democratic transfer of power that some polling stations ran out of ballots.  
The special U.N. representative to Afghanistan, Jan Kubis, praised Afghan voters for the turnout "despite the threats and intimidations" they had received from insurgents.  
The election was seen as pivotal for Afghanistan’s political and economic future, as well as a test of wills between the Afghan people and the Taliban.
Afghanistan\’s election commission chief says preliminary estimates suggest turnout in the elections was 7 million out of 12 million eligible voters, or about 58 percent.
Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, chairman of the Independent Election Commission, said that by midday some 3.5 million people had cast votes, 36 percent of them women.
There were minor attacks during Saturday\’s presidential poll, leading to nearly 900 polling stations being closed due to fighting or lack of security forces.
The turnout was so high for the country\’s first democratic transfer of power that some polling stations ran out of ballots.  
Afghan President Hamid Karzai cast his vote on Saturday in the election that marks the start of his country\’s first-ever democratic transfer of power, as he steps down after serving the maximum two terms in office.
Eight candidates are vying to succeed Hamid Karzai, who is barred by the constitution from seeking a third consecutive term as president.
Results are not expected for a few weeks. A second round will be needed if none of the eight candidates gets more than half the vote.
Security is tight across the nation because insurgents have promised to disrupt Saturday\’s vote. The lead-up to the vote has been fraught with violence. Yet, voting Saturday seems to be relatively free of violence.
Traffic was prevented from entering the Afghan capital from midday on Friday, with police checkpoints erected at every junction.
Afghan officials say they have deployed hundreds of thousands of security forces to protect the country\’s 12 million voters.
However, in parts of the capital voters could be seen queuing an hour before polls opened and there is a good-natured, almost carnival atmosphere, with many people on the streets, our correspondent reports.
Neighboring Pakistan has closed all border crossings with Afghanistan and deployed additional troops in an attempt to help Afghanistan conduct the election peacefully. Pakistan said the border security arrangements were stepped up in close coordination with Afghan security forces.
On the eve of the vote, one Associated Press journalist (Anja Niedringhaus) was shot dead and another (Kathy Gannon) wounded by a policeman as they reported on election preparations in Afghanistan. Authorities say the police officer was arrested following the incident inside a heavily-guarded district compound in a remote part of the eastern province of Khost.
It was the third deadly attack against journalists in the past three weeks.
The Taliban has vowed to interfere with Saturday\’s presidential and provincial council vote.
President Karzai said he was grieved by the shooting of the journalists and ordered a full investigation.
The United Nations, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists all condemned the attack and expressed their condolences. Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said the shooting highlights the "permanent and ubiquitous danger" for reporters in some regions of Afghanistan and called on authorities "to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists, whose role is crucial at the height of the electoral process."
On March 11, British-Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was shot and killed at point-blank range on the streets of Kabul. Nine days later, gunmen shot and killed Afghan reporter for the French News agency Sardar Ahmad, as well as his wife and two of his three young children in Kabul\’s heavily protected Serena Hotel.
On Thursday, Jan Kubis, the U.N. Special Representative for Afghanistan, urged Afghan citizens not to let anyone deprive them of their right to vote.
Kubis said there might be difficulties and security problems, but Afghanistan is much better prepared for Saturday\’s election than it was in 2009.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for recent election-related violence, including Tuesday\’s suicide bombing outside the Afghan Interior Ministry, killing at least six police officers.
Source –  Agencies

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