Heavy clashes mar Afghanistan poll

Heavy clashes mar Afghanistan poll
# 20 August 2009 12:56 (UTC +04:00)
Baku -APA. Militants stormed a small town of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan on Thursday, launching a multi-pronged assault that sparked heavy clashes with security forces and prevented polling stations from opening, AFP quoted police as saying.

As Reuters reported, in the most serious of the violent incidents reported as Afghans voted in the presidential election, up to 22 Taliban gunmen were killed by the security forces defending the town.

Police in the town said that the heavy clashes meant that polling stations were not opened.
Terrorists attacked from several directions. Fighting has been going on since morning," said the provincial police chief, Mohammad Kabir Andarabi.
"Now, as we speak, the enemy has been pushed back. We have killed 22 terrorists. Most of their bodies are left on the ground."
Taliban intimidation was also seen in the capital, Kabul, where police shot dead two militants after a gun battle in the east of the city.
Election observers said voters had begun arriving cautiously at polling stations after a slow start, but early turn out appeared low in rural parts of the insurgency-hit south.
Afghans have today begun voting in the country’s national elections amid tight security and threats of violence from the Taliban.

About 17 million people are eligible to vote, with 6,500 polling stations open in 364 districts across the country.

Polling stations opened at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) on Thursday under stepped-up security, particularly in the capital Kabul, where many checkpoints have been established to frisk drivers and passengers.

Incumbent Hamid Karzai is also one of the forerunners in the tense election and is seeking a second five-year term as president among 36 candidates. His main rival is considered to be Abdullah Abdullah, his former foreign minister.

Casting his vote half an hour after polls opened, President Hamid Karzai appealed to his fellow countrymen "to come out and cast their vote to decide their future."

"Vote. No violence."

If none of the candidates garner at least 50 per cent of the vote, a runoff will be held between the top two candidates.

About 300,000 soldiers from NATO and the Afghan army have been deployed around the country to protect voters and thousands of polling stations. Helicopters were reported to be circling over the capital of Kabul.

The Taliban has demanded that Afghans boycott the polls, threatening to cut off the fingers of those who vote and saying they will attack polling stations.

A statement from the Taliban on Wednesday said Taliban fighters were closing roads across the country, the Reuters news agency reported.

Polls close Thursday at 7:30 a.m. ET, with preliminary results expected on Saturday.