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Afghans Head To Polls Despite Violence

An Afghan woman inks her finger during the presidential election at a polling station in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Saturday.
Rahmat Gul

Afghans chose between two former government ministers in a presidential election that will be the first transfer of power by ballot in Afghanistan's history.

The winner of Saturday's balloting, as Arab News puts it, "will inherit an unfinished war and an economy in the doldrums."

Abdullah Abdullah, an ophthalmologist and former foreign minister, is the presumptive frontrunner, earning 45 percent of the vote in April's first round of voting.

Former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani, who earned a Ph.D. at Columbia University, is the only other name on the ballot. Ghani held 32 percent of the vote in April.

"Both candidates favor stronger relations with the U.S.," NPR's Sean Carberry told our Newscast desk. "Given the unpredictible nature of Afghanistan's ethnic and strong-man-based politics, either candidate could emerge the winner."

The results are expected on July 2 and will be finalized July 22.

The April election was cheered as a huge success after voters turned out in higher-than-expected numbers, despite a barrage of Taliban threats and low-level attacks, says the Guardian:

"There were fears on Saturday that voters might stay away after the emotion of the first round dissipated and the Taliban ramped up their threats. But the weather co-operated and on a sunny morning queues formed outside polling stations around the country before their 7am opening."

Insurgents have threatened to target polling stations, and officials are desperate to repeat the sucess of the April vote. Police and soldiers are searching almost every car on Kabul's roads Saturday in an attempt to thwart suicide attackers.

But officials tell the BBC they fear a close outcome more than Taliban attacks: "That would allow the supporters of whoever loses to reject defeat, possibly throwing the country back into war along ethnic lines."

Update at 10:14 a.m. ET. 150 Incidents:

Reporting from Kabul, NPR's Sean Carberry send us this update on the security situation:

"According to the Afghan ministry of interior, there were about 150 security incidents today — everything from rocket attacks to sticky bombs. There were almost 300 on April 5. It's possible today's number will gradually be revised upward.

"So far, 10 Afghan Army and Police killed and dozens more wounded. 14 civilians killed including at least one child, and more than 40 more injured. 19 insurgents reported killed."

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