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Defying Taliban Threats, Afghans Line Up To Vote

NPR icon by L. Carol Ritchie
Shah Marai

Afghans lined up to vote for a new president Saturday despite warnings of violence from the Taliban.

It would be the first democratic transfer of power for Afghanistan; President Hamid Karzai has served for two terms and is not allowed to run for a third under the country's constitution. It will likely be weeks before results of the vote are announced.

The Taliban launched a number of attacks that killed dozens in the weeks before the election, but no major violence has been reported since polls opened.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

"An hour after voting opened at 7 a.m., long lines started forming at polling stations in Kabul, where voters were frisked by police before dipping their fingers in indelible ink and casting ballots.

" 'I am not afraid. We only die once,' said hotel worker Jamil, 51, as he stood behind dozens of men at a mosque that served as a polling station in Kabul's Wazir Akbar Khan district. 'We are voting to make clear our future, to choose a next leader who will bring us peace and security,' echoed Mohammed Yussef, a 32-year-old hotel worker."

The BBC said turnout has been brisk despite heavy rain in the capital, Kabul. "BBC correspondents said young voters in particular were defying the conditions and the security threats," the network reported.

Hundreds of thousands of security forces were on duty to protect voters. The AP says mobile phone messaging went down Friday night, apparently to prevent militants from using messages to signal attacks.

Afghans are choosing between eight candidates, but three are considered front-runners and none is expected to win a majority, making a runoff all in late May or early June all but certain.

The three candidates — former foreign ministers Abdullah Abdullah and Zalmai Rassoul, and former finance minister and World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — share similar policy proposals. From the AP:

"All have promised to sign a security agreement with the United States that will allow thousands of foreign troops to remain in the country after 2014 — which Karzai has refused to do. The candidates differ on some issues such as the country's border dispute with Pakistan. But all preach against fraud and corruption and vow to improve security."

Update at 7:45 a.m. ET: Voting Period Extended

Polling stations are remaining open an extra hour, NPR's Sean Carberry tells us. Saturday's deadline had been 4 p.m., but officials say they will tally the vote of everyone who's in line as of 5 p.m.

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