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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 September 2005, 12:05 GMT 13:05 UK
Afghanistan holds landmark vote
An Afghan policeman frisks a voter at the entrance of a polling centre in Kabul, 18 September 2005
Thousands of police and soldiers are on duty for the poll
Voting has ended for the first parliamentary and local elections held in Afghanistan in more than 30 years.

More than 12 million voters had a choice of almost 6,000 candidates. Voting was steady through the day.

Thousands of foreign and Afghan security forces were on high alert after a campaign marred by violence.

Six people, including two policemen and a French soldier, were killed in separate incidents. A UN compound near Kabul came under a rocket attack.

QUICK GUIDE

One UN worker was injured in that incident.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says, despite reports of queues in various parts of the country, there are signs that turn-out was lower than for last year's presidential vote.

In the 2004 polls which President Hamid Karzai won by a landslide, turn-out was 75%.

At one polling station in Kabul there were handfuls of voters where last year there had been long lines.

I'm afraid but I don't care - it's to improve Afghanistan so I have to, I have to vote
Voter in Kandahar

Our correspondent says the picture that emerged seems to be one of steady, rather than brisk voting.

There were 5,800 candidates nationwide for the two elections.

Only a few of them declared any political ties, which observers say made it hard for voters to be able to make an informed choice between candidates.

The elections were part of an international plan to restore democracy after US-led forces overthrew the Taleban in 2001 and followed presidential polls won by Mr Karzai last year. The election may well produce a fragmented national assembly focusing on local interests. Final results are due in late October.

Sporadic

President Karzai was one of the early voters in the capital, saying it was a good day for Afghanistan whatever the result.

VOTE FACTS
2,800 parliamentary candidates
3,000 candidates for 34 provincial councils
249 seats in lower house or Wolesi Jirga
About 25% of seats reserved for women
160,000 vote officials, 26,000 polling stations
Final result due 22 October

"We are making history," he said as he cast his ballot.

Reports from Kandahar in the south say women voted in large numbers. BBC reporters in Jalalabad say more women than men voted there.

Correspondents say the sporadic violence did not appear to have deterred voters.

Attacks by militants, mostly in southern and eastern rural areas, have been largely blamed on supporters of Afghanistan's former Taleban regime who oppose the election.

Pictures and symbols

The administration of the elections was an additional headache.

Election workers load ballot boxes onto a donkey in north-western Afghanistan
Ballot boxes have been sent by donkeys, horses and camels

Poor transport links and inhospitable terrain presented huge problems.

Illiteracy is also a factor and there were fears many people may find it difficult to choose candidates by their picture and symbol.

In Kabul, voters had to work their way through a seven-page ballot paper with almost 400 candidates for the parliament alone.

About 40,000 Afghan police and army troops were on duty, backed up by more than 30,000 US and Nato forces.

More than 1,000 people, including seven election candidates, have been killed in militant-linked violence in the past six months - the worst bloodshed since US-led forces ousted the Taleban in 2001.

Organisers and President Karzai urged voters to defy the militants and turn out in large numbers.

A spokesman for the UN, which has helped organise the foreign-funded vote, said militants had failed to disrupt preparations for the election.

The elections are being seen as another step away from years of war and turmoil and are part of a process agreed four years ago to bring democracy to Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taleban.

Final results are due in late October.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
BBC's John Simpson visits the region



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