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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 08:25 GMT 09:25 UK
Afghan election count under way
A man brings a ballot box into a counting centre in Kandahar, Afghanistan
The ballots will take weeks to count
Vote counting has started in Afghanistan's first parliamentary and provincial poll for more than 30 years.

Counting was under way in Herat, Bamiyan, Kunduz and Kandahar, election commission spokesman Shaker Sayan told Reuters news agency.

He said it was due to begin in Kabul and other areas later in the day.

Donkeys and helicopters have helped take ballots to count centres. Turn out is estimated at 50% - over 20 points down on the 2004 presidential poll.

A number of reasons for the drop are being given, such as that many voters said they did not want to vote for candidates they regarded as warlords.

QUICK GUIDE

There was also evidence many people found the elections confusing.

Results are expected next month.

Al-Qaeda statement

President Hamid Karzai has said he hopes the parliament will provide a strong focus for democracy in the country, even if a majority of deputies oppose him.

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

Other world leaders also welcomed the polls, including US President George W Bush, who praised Afghan voters for "defying the Taleban".

In a videotape aired on al-Jazeera television on Monday, the poll was denounced as a farce by al-Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri.

He said northern Afghanistan had turned into a battlefield of "chaos, looting, rape and drug trafficking which had flourished under the American occupation".

"Thieves and warlords are controlling affairs in the country, where international monitors can't observe more than 10 constituencies even if they wanted to," he added.

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.

However, officials said the peaceful conduct of the polls was a victory over the militants.


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