South Asia

'Brave' Afghan voters hailed amid Taliban threats

Woman voter in Kabul
Image caption Turnout has initially been put at about 40%

Nato and the UN have praised voters who turned out for parliamentary elections in Afghanistan, despite violence that killed at least 14 people.

Nato forces chief Gen David Petraeus said the voice of Afghanistan's future belonged to the people, not extremists.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Afghan voters had shown "courage and determination".

Turnout has been put at 40%. However, there were many reports of fraud that may question the results.

More than 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 seats in the lower house of parliament, or Wolesi Jirga.

Governor targeted

Most polling stations had opened on schedule on Saturday.

However, the Taliban staged a series of rocket and other attacks around the country to deter voters.

The interior ministry said three security officials and 11 civilians had been killed.

The Kandahar provincial governor was also targeted in a bomb attack but survived.

Faizal Ahmad Manawi, head of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), said initial figures pointed to a turnout figure of 40%. Turnout for the last parliamentary election, in 2005, was about 50%.

"As a whole I would rate this election successful," he said.

Gen Petraeus said the "people of Afghanistan sent a powerful message".

"The voice of Afghanistan's future does not belong to the violent extremists and terror networks. It belongs to the people," he said.

Gen Petraeus also praised the Afghan forces for "safeguarding a weapon with greater potential than any other - the people's right to vote".

Nato senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, said the poll had shown "the future of Afghanistan remains one where violence cannot overthrow the democratic will of the people".

However the UN envoy to the country, Staffan de Mistura, told the BBC that it was premature to say the vote had been a success.

He said there had clearly been security problems, particularly in the south, but that in many other parts of the country the vote had been "enthusiastic".

'Stick to jihad'

After casting his vote in central Kabul, President Karzai said that by taking part in the election, Afghans would "take the country many steps forward into a better future".

An Isaf spokesman said the level of violence had been similar to last year's presidential election, with 445 violent incidents on Saturday compared with 479 on 20 August last year.

But fraud remains a key concern to the credibility of the election.

The Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, a monitoring group, said it had found "extensive irregularities" and urged the Independent Election Commission "to ensure the integrity of the rest of the electoral process".

The foundation's Nader Nadery told the BBC it was to be welcomed that more people had voted than expected and that casualties from attacks were lower than anticipated.

But he said there were many problems with the indelible ink used to stop multiple voting, with proxy votes, interference by local power brokers and with a large amount of intimidation.

The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Kabul said among the incidents of fraud were the arrest of 26 people with fake identity cards in Helmand province and officials stuffing ballot boxes at one closed polling station in eastern Wardak province.

The Taliban had earlier warned voters to boycott the poll and "stick to jihad".

Preliminary results are to be announced on 22 September, with the final results due on 31 October.

The outcome is not expected to change the make-up of the government although President Karzai's credibility may be damaged if his preferred candidates are defeated, or if vote-rigging is suspected.

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