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Home >> World
UPDATED: 09:18, September 19, 2005
Afghans defy threats to vote for legislature
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Afghans chose a legislature for the first time in decades Sunday, braving threats of Taliban attacks to cast votes in schools, tents and mosques.

Reports of violence came in from around Afghanistan as it sought to claw its way back from more than a quarter-century of conflict, but there were no immediate signs of a spectacular attack that officials had feared from Taliban militants who vowed to disrupt the vote.

Assaults in the two days leading up to the vote left at least 22 people dead, including a French special forces soldier killed when his vehicle struck a mine. Early Sunday, fierce fighting erupted in eastern Afghanistan, leaving three militants and two policemen dead and two US troops wounded, officials said.

But Sunday was mostly about getting out to vote and making a difference. Officials predicted a massive turnout despite a Taliban call for a boycott.

"We are making history," President Hamid Karzai said as he cast his ballot. "It's the day of self-determination for the Afghan people. After 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations and misery, today Afghanistan is moving forward, making an economy, making political institutions."

Some 12.4 million Afghans were registered to vote for the national legislature and provincial assemblies at more than 6,000 polling stations, guarded by some 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops.

"Today is a magnificent day for Afghanistan," said Ali Safar, 62, standing in line to vote in Kabul. "We want dignity, we want stability and peace."

Afghans clutching voter identification cards filed into schools with lessons still scrawled on blackboards, or stepped over piles of shoes to cast their ballots in mosques. In remote areas, polling stations were set up in tents.

With nearly three-quarters of the populace illiterate, voting was slow as people waded through ballots up to seven pages long to find pictures of candidates or symbols that represent them. Some voters spent as long as 10 minutes voting. Each voter dipped a finger in indelible purple ink to prevent repeat voting.

Women, some in all-encompassing burqas, were segregated from men at many polling centres, entering through back doors and voting in separate rooms.

The vote was seen as the last formal step towards democracy on a path set out after the Taliban was driven from power in 2001, when they refused to hand over al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden following the September 11 attacks.

The Taliban said they would not attack civilians heading to the polls.

Source: China Daily/agencies

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