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Page last updated at 12:55 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 13:55 UK

As it happened: Afghan election 2009

Men show off their inked fingers after voting in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, on 20 August 2009

TEXT COMMENTARY (all entries Afghanistan Time, GMT + 4.5)
By Jude Sheerin

Afghanistan's election day was marred by widespread and deadly Taliban attacks, patchy turnout and claims of serious fraud. But many voters bravely defied the militants' threats. We've followed the poll with breaking news, your e-mails and Tweets, and insights from BBC correspondents on the ground.

1710 That wraps up our Afghan election coverage. Polls are closing again (no, really). All eyes will now await the preliminary results due in the next 48 hours. In the meantime, it seems likely the Afghans who braved Taliban bombs and bullets to reach the ballot box will have questions about these reports of fraud galore.

Hugh Sykes
1707 The BBC's Hugh Sykes, in Kabul, says: The head of the Afghan Journalists' Union, Rahimullah Samandar, tells me police hit him and other reporters with rifle butts when they tried to photograph the remains of two presumed suicide bombers shot dead this morning.

Daud Qarizadeh
1704 BBC Persian TV's Daud Qarizadah says: One of the MPs who came and took part in one of the debates I chaired accepted the turnout was lower than the last election. But, she said, people were brave enough to come out despite Taliban threats.

1703 Mohammad Zaki Shahamat, a correspondent for Afghanistan's Daily Outlook newspaper, says most TV channels adhered to the government's call to refrain from reporting violence. He says the media may well have played a role in encouraging people to vote.

comment from blogger
The American aid body USAID has compiled a very detailed map showing estimated numbers of voters and average risk levels. Find it here.

Kaneshka Turkistani
1644 The BBC's Kaneshka Turkistani, in northern Jowzjan province, says: A lot of people up here voted, many women too. There were no security problems as it is largely safe here. Many people are Uzbek and support the warlord General Dostum (who is not a candidate, but an ally of Karzai). Polling booths are now closing, and people said they were very happy today.

in central Bamiyan province, Afghanistan (Photo: Muzafar Ali)
A voter's finger bears the "indelible" ink, source of such controversy

e-mail sent in by reader
Behruz , in Kabul, e-mails: Its not an election but a comedy. In my neighborhood I saw a few guys who easily washed their fingers and went for second time to vote, if all these things are happening in capital what do you think how is the condition in remote areas?

1632 Tolo TV quotes an election commission official as saying voting was extended for another hour, and polls will now close at 1700 (1330 GMT).

1629 Afghanistan's Lemar TV channel reports that long queues of voters were turned away because ballot papers ran out in the Jibrail area of Herat city, capital of western Herat province.

Caroline Wyatt
1628 The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Lashkar Gah says: We went to one of the main polling stations at a boys' high school where men were voting. Everyone we spoke to was supporting Karzai, a Pashtun, which is natural for here. We then went on to a polling booth for women. It was a lot quieter, no queues, three or four women voting as we arrived.

Martin Patience
1612 The BBC's Martin Patience in Mazar-e-Sharif says: Voting is down to a trickle in the hot afternoon sun. Many people are saying this could be close to the final turnout in this village. About 1,000 people, men and women, turned out.

Ilyas Khan
1608 The BBC's Ilyas Khan in western Herat province says: In the Jibrail area, a polling officer says 60% of voters turning out by 3pm have been women. The area is dominated by ethnic Hazara migrants.

Bilal Sarwary
1604 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: Polling stations are now closing on time in Kabul. Earlier plans to keep them open were dropped due to the low turnout. The next 48 hours should bring some preliminary results. There are fears of widespread irregularities, and Karzai is taking the brunt of criticism from many voters. Most Afghans nevertheless expressed hope the next president would take the county further down the road to a so far elusive peace.

1542 Update on that battle in northern Baghlan: the province's governor said the Taliban attacked polling centres in Baghlan-e-Markazi district this morning. Fighting continued for hours, with the district police chief dead and four Taliban militants also reportedly killed. Some of the polling centres have since re-opened.

tweet
strickvl tweets: 'Now the campaign starts' say kandaharis as they start scrubbing 'indelible' ink from their fingers...

1532 More allegations of voter fraud fly between the presidential candidates. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai says Abdullah Abdullah's supporters have been pressuring voters to pick their man. Meanwhile, Abdullah's supporters say 80,000 ballots were filled out in eastern Ghazni province for Karzai - er, last night, before the polls opened.

1514 A 13-year-old boy with a fake registration card has voted, reports CNN's Kevin Flower. The journalist's posted the pic on a Twitter picture page here. Utterly farcical, if true. FYI: Afghan voters must be at least 18 years old. If only this boy wonder forger had been around when I was trying to get into pubs at 16 using my older brother's Blockbuster video card for ID.

1500 The director of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission insists voter turnout has been very high all over the country, despite reports it has been very low in certain areas. Azizullah Loudin also rejected claims the ink used to mark voter finger is not indelible. He said the "ink is definitely indelible".

1449 There are reports a rocket has landed close to the home of Hamid Karzai's brother in Kandahar, killing a woman and injuring her child. Some districts in the eastern town of Jalalabad have reported no voters turning up at all.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

1446 The BBC's Mohammad Arif Yakubin, in Ghazni, says: The Taliban have set fire to a bus travelling on the Kandahar-Kabul highway, after offloading passengers and the driver. This was reportedly punishment for violating a Taliban ban on using the highway today.

Afghan police drag the bodies of two gunmen killed in a gunfight in Kabul on 20 August 2009
Afghan police drag the bodies of two gunmen killed in Kabul

1440 Samina Ahmed, of the International Crisis Group, in Kabul, says: People are scared, partly I suspect because they don't know where the violence will hit, partly because there have been attacks in Kabul this morning, and partly because the government's failure to provide information on these random attacks creates a sense of insecurity and fear.

e-mail sent in by reader
Raihana, in Kabul, e-mails: As I am a girl, before I go for vote my brothers told me don't go, if any talib see you they will directly fire on you, still I went because I believe one vote can change the nation. I have heard bomb explosions, myself and my family can't move from home. I am the only girl from family who went for vote.

1435 More on reports of that gun battle between police and militants in northern Baghlan province. Police told AFP news agency they have repelled the Taliban and killed at least six of them.

e-mail sent in by reader
Akbar, in Samangan, e-mails: I as a afghan boy will vote, whatever taliban activities. We have to vote because it depends on our future and no one can ban us.

1429 Kabul-based Rah-e-Farda TV channel reports that women's participation in central Daykundi province is remarkably high, with long queues to vote. Polls could close much later than scheduled. The same reporter also said a mobile voting team went to the local prison so that inmates with sentences under five years could vote.

comment from blogger
Alive In Afghanistan, reports: Men using women's voter cards in Paktia province

1424 Presidential candidate Ramazan Bashardost has called for the election to be halted "immediately", because he says the ink which is supposed to mark voters' hands indelibly, so they can't vote again, is easily washed off. "This is not transparency, it is not honest, it is not free," he said.

1420 AFP news agency is reporting that militants have stormed a town in northern Baghlan province, sparking heavy clashes with security forces.

Bilal Sarwary
1404 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: Two more people have died. A woman died and three children were injured when 10 rockets were fired and some hit a house in south-eastern Khost province (near Pakistan's Waziristan region), at Machi village in Sabari district. Also in Khost, a civilian car hit a roadside bomb, killing one person and injuring three.

1342 Another Karzai rival for the presidency, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, cast his vote, saying: "I hope we peacefully resolve all the political issues arising regarding fraud. We are determined to avoid a Kenya and Zimbabwe (post-election crisis) at any cost and we are grateful for the support of the people of Europe and the rest of the world."

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

Lyse Doucet
1336 The BBC's Lyse Doucet in Kabul says: Voting got off to a brisk start, but there are concerns turnout could be low. Voting across the country has been patchy. In the most volatile areas of the south, people have been staying away because of fears of violence.

Hugh Sykes
1333 The BBC's Hugh Sykes, in Kabul, says: The city is relaxed, but alert. The Taliban say they have "infiltrated" the capital with 20 suicide bombers. The police believe there are 26 militants in Kabul. Pedestrian suicide bombers are hard to stop - especially when wearing loose traditional clothes. Or - uncomfortable thought - men in burkas.

e-mail sent in by reader
Mustafa, in Bamiyan [central Afghanistan], e-mails:I was not able to vote due to long queues. The turn out is great, particularly the women. I see some children under 18 who are voting and some offering ride to people taking them to the polling stations and ask them, in return, to vote in favor of certain candidates.

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Inside a Kabul polling station

e-mail sent in by reader
Ehsanullah, in southern city of Kandahar, e-mails: So far 16 rockets have landed in our city. One just fell behind my house now with a big bang, frightening my children. A teacher at my school is working at one polling station. He says turn out is terribly low. Only 35 voters. The centre is supposed to be one of the busiest.

1320 Update: In eastern Ghazni province there are reports of two missing ballot boxes. In northern Badakhshan province, two helicopters with ballot boxes for 1,500 people had to turn back in one district because they could not land owing to the difficult terrain - those people will now not be able to vote.

1312 Tolo TV has reported that in some provinces, under 18s with voting cards, clearly false, have been allowed in to vote. The reporters haven't said exactly how they know the voters were underage, but said this had been happening in north-eastern Kunar province and northern Takhar province.

John Simpson
1308 The BBC's John Simpson, just south of Kabul, adds: [Afghan voters] are not terribly enthusiastic about the candidates. President Karzai in particular is not regarded as a big success - but it's only the second time people have had the opportunity to choose their rulers like this, so there's a real sense, I feel, of national pride about this.

e-mail sent in by reader
Ahmad, in Kabul, e-mails: I voted in a polling station beside Kabul University. I am feeling so proud today to play a role for future of my country. Moreover, belonging to an Hazara ethnic group of Afghan community who had been deprived from our political rights in the past, I found this a great opportunity.

Martin Patience
1300 The BBC's Martin Patience, in Mazar-e-Sharif, says: Security - like everywhere in Afghanistan - is tight. Voters are being frisked and women are being asked to lift their burkas by female election officials.

Afghan policemen searches voters in Lublan, southern Afghanistan, on 20 August 2009

1248 Update on how the Afghan media is handling the government decree not to report violence on election day: the TV stations are not mentioning any attacks and have kept their lips sealed on the Kabul gun battle in which two militants were killed, although a couple of radio stations did cover that firefight.

John Simpson
1244 The BBC's John Simpson, in Chatta Hab, just south of Kabul, says: There's big security here. Almost immediately, as we set up our sat phone a truckload of heavily armed soldiers turned up to find out what we were doing.

1238 The man tipped as Karzai's strongest challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, has cast his vote at a Kabul polling station alongside his wife and young son. "It is a day of change, a day of hope," the ex-foreign minister said afterwards.

Bilal Sarwary
1234 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: Police said the two dead militants removed from the scene of that gun battle in an eastern suburb of Kabul were suicide bombers. It's not yet clear if they blew themselves up or were shot.

tweet
itamena, in Kabul, tweets: Heading to the polls... it's so quiet and beautiful...

1224 The BBC's stringer in Wardak province, an hour's drive from Kabul, says its quiet there. No-one is out on the streets, no-one is voting. The Taliban there made threats not just against anyone who voted, but anybody so much as seen outside their homes.

e-mail sent in by reader
Tawfiq, in Wardak, e-mails: I probably was the first in my area who voted and I feel proud, looks to me like our democracy has started to deliver and give fruit.

Harun Najafizadeh
1209 BBC Persian TV's Harun Najafizada, in Mazar-e-Sharif, says: The election commission is accused of fraud in favour of Karzai here, by Balkh province Governor Atta Mohammad Nur. He said it provided a material that cleans the ink from voters' fingers, presumably so they can vote again. And he accused the commission of tricking illiterate voters into picking Karzai. The commission denies the claims.

e-mail sent in by reader
Sumayyah, in Kabul, e-mails: I only know one person who said they will vote in the elections, only one! I hope the turnout increases. Also, Bashardost found out the 'indelible ink' is easily washed.

1200 A district police chief has been killed by the Taliban. Three policemen were also injured in the raid on the home of police chief Mohammad Afzal, in the northern Baghlan province. Officials say the attackers also sustained casualties. The BBC's Ahmad Yama, in Kunduz, says the Taliban claimed the attack.

e-mail sent in by reader
Anonymous, in Kabul, e-mails: What do I see from our 4th floor roof? A clear blue sky, panoramic view of the mountains and city - and hundreds of kites flying! Add to that the smell of freshly cut grass... I hope the day remains peaceful and idyllic

e-mail sent in by reader
Azad, in Jalalabad, e-mails: Why should I go to voting? It's not election but selection of best puppet among 42 persons by american imperialists.

Martin Patience
1143 The BBC's Martin Patience, in Mazar-e-Sharif in the north of Afghanistan, says: Voting's been pretty brisk trade in the last few hours. Obviously there's tight security, so the voters are getting frisked as they come in, the women are being asked to lift up their burkas, but it's expected that voter turnout here will be the highest anywhere in Afghanistan.

Bilal Sarwary
1142 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: At least two militants have died in that gun battle between militants and police in a residential area of Kabul, says a police chief. I'm at the scene and the firefight now seems to be over. Two US soldiers emerged after inspected the scene, outside of where onlookers have gathered.

Caroline Wyatt
1136 The BBC's Caroline Wyatt, in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, says: We've had about seven explosions, one quite near the governor's compound. After that, I wasn't expecting too many voters, but I was wrong. There was a big queue at one polling station and the voters I spoke to there said they wouldn't be scared off by the bombs.

Babrak Miakhel
1131 The BBC's Babrak Miakhel in Jalalabad says: I visited some polling stations in Jalalabad city and the Behsood district of Nangarhar province. Voter turnout is high, turnout from women is good in Behsood.

Ilyas Khan
1126 The BBC's M Ilyas Khan, in Herat, says: Most voters I spoke to are for Karzai. But many also voted for Dr Abdullah. Prisoners in Herat central prison are also voting. One inmate said he chose Karzai as he has "brought honour to the country in the comity of nations".

1123 If you're just joining us half way through election day, there've been sporadic militant attacks across Afghanistan, particularly in the south and north-east. A child died in a rocket strike in Helmand. In Kabul, a firefight has been ongoing between police and militants in a house. Turnout seems to have been OK. Some voting problems reported.

1110 The BBC's Peter Allen, at Nato's Isaf base in Kandahar, says: Voting has begun, but is slow, and slow for good reasons. Local poll staff say 107 of 142 polling stations won't open because of threats of violence. I've heard of an attack on a convoy of election observers.

Women show voter ID cards in Kandahar on 20 August 2009
Women voters exercise their franchise in Kandahar

comment from blogger
Alive In Afghanistan reports: In remote Chapadara district of Kunar, 9 polls were closed but tribal elders stood guard and now they are open

e-mail sent in by reader
Anonymous, in Kabul, e-mails: I live close to the Presidential Palace - I'm happy to report the Afghan Army are doing a sterling job keeping us safe in this very dangerous part of the city... I feel very hopeful today.

tweet
pajhwok tweets: 85-year-old man carried to polling station on shoulders of his sons and voted, in Nangahar

1056 There are reports of three loud explosions at the house in the capital where a firefight is ongoing between gunmen described as militants and Kabul police (international forces not involved, as previously thought).

Richard Colebourn
1050 The BBC's Richard Colebourn, in Kabul, says: At this polling station, not many people are out to vote so far. But plenty of journalists have turned out. One Afghan poll official said he thinks more reporters may have showed up than voters.

1046 It seems domestic Afghan TV channels are sticking to the government ban on reporting of election day violence. Most of the coverage has focused on round table discussions with guests encouraging people to vote.

1041 More reports of voting problems. Afghan Tolo TV says in two districts of Khost province there were not enough ballot papers for the presidential vote. Tolo TV also reported irregularities with the punch machines in a district.

e-mail sent in by reader
Wahida, in Mazar-e-Sharif, e-mails: I feel part of those making history in Afghanistan now that I vote with many hopes for a free, democratic and prosperous Afghanistan where women are respected as men! Good luck to my homeland!

1033 Faizullah Zaki, MP from northern Jowzan province, says: In spite of Taliban threats, I've just been to several northern provinces and in general the turnout's good, the overall mood is hope.

1031 Independent MP Daoud Sultanzoy in Kabul says: By voting people are showing they believe in themselves and the future, and that's very important in a democracy, especially a young democracy like Afghanistan. Mistakes have been made, but people who vote today are giving Afghanistan a second chance

e-mail sent in by reader
Murtaza, in Kabul, e-mails: I really am interested to vote today, but early in the morning on the way to my office, I have seen the streets so quiet and lots of Afghan security officials. I really don't want to lose my life, for voting.

Bilal Sarwary
1026 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: There's a serious gun battle going on in the city's Karti Naw district between people described as militants who've taken refuge in a house and international forces. Witnesses have heard rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s being fired.

1023 The BBC's Mohammad Arif Yakubi, in eastern Ghazni province, says: A polling centre has been shut due to rising Taliban threats. Witnesses told me that in three districts - Ghelan, Andar, Geroo - polling stations are open, but there is a very low turnout. Witnesses said local police tried to bring men to poll centres there. But, locals say, outside these district centres, no poll station is even open.

e-mail sent in by reader
Mirwais, in Kabul, e-mails: I have just voted. I really felt secure and safe. The only problem was the making holes in voting cards. Their cutters were not working and instead of cutters they were using scissors which was not trustworthy.

Harun Najafizadeh
1008 The BBC's Harun Nazafijada in Kabul says: I can see a number of girls with make-up wearing jeans and mini-skirts voting in a school. There are women in burkas too. Many of the women voters seems to be students.

1007 The election in numbers: 17 million registered voters; up to 7,000 polling centres; more than 40 presidential candidates (two female); 3,200 provincial council candidates; 3,000 donkeys transporting voting materials.

Bilal Sarwary
1003 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: It's not just security that's a problem. I'm hearing from colleagues in eastern provinces how people have to travel from remote villages across bridges, rivers and valleys to vote. Infrastructure is another hurdle over here.

1000 If you're just joining us, there've been sporadic rocket attacks across the country, including in Kandahar and one that killed a child in Helmand. There were two explosions in Kabul, but no casualties. The north-eastern provinces of Baghlan and Kunduz have seen a number of attacks. There was also a rocket attack in eastern Ghazni province. Turnout appears to have been reasonable, but patchy.

tweet
saadmohseni tweets: I just voted. An honor for a citizen of any country.

0946 Three Afghan TV channels are reporting technical voting problems. They say machines used to punch voter cards haven't worked in a polling centre in western Kabul and in Kunduz province.

0943 Among the other several dozen presidential candidates are a caretaker and a fortune-teller. The contenders have chosen imaginative campaign symbols, including an alarm clock, a teapot, a ribbon-tied gift, an axe, apples, stethoscopes and ink pens. Karzai has chosen a set of scales.

0939 The BBC's Ahmad Elham in northern Kunduz city says: The situation is tense as three rockets have landed in the city, with one hitting a polling centre. Turnout of women has been particularly low. The governor of Takhar province says at 5am two suicide bombers were arrested in Farkhar district.

e-mail sent in by reader
Haywad, in Helmand, e-mails: Afghans no longer want to be in a situation where their national pride and integrity is being undermined by evil-minders. We went through decades of fighting and it's getting tiresome. So now we decided to do at least something good for our beloved country.

Hugh Sykes
0930 The BBC's Hugh Sykes, in Kabul, says: Weather's beautiful. I've been past two polling stations with hardly any voters, but it was early morning. Most people I met in Kabul say they're determined to vote. Security is tight. Driving for half an hour, we were stopped at three checkpoints.

0917 Popular Afghan TV channels like Tolo, Ariana and Shamshad are broadcasting live election programmes from various provinces. The respected Daily Outlook newspaper strikes an optimistic note in its editorial, saying security threats will not deter voters.

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A look at the main presidential candidates in the Afghan elections

Bilal Sarwary
0907 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: The city's emptiness is a stark contrast to the last elections in 2004. There have been two explosions in the capital, but no casualties. In the eastern city of Jalalabad turnout has been low, but high in the districts, despite several militant attacks.

0857 A US poll last week found 44% of Afghans plan to vote for Karzai, compared with 26% for Abdullah. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai trailed well behind in third. If this was borne out at the ballot box, the election would go to a run-off, as a candidate must bring in more than 50% of votes to win first time.

Ian Pannell
0855 The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says: The streets are unusually quiet and there has been a number of security incidents, but even so voters have turned out in reasonable numbers in the west of the capital. There are queues of men and women voters outside some polling stations.

0850 In a widely criticised move, the Afghan government tried to ban media coverage of any militant attacks during the polls, in case it scared off voters. Foreign media, including the BBC, are ignoring this. But there are reports some Afghan reporters have been harassed and beaten by security forces.

e-mail sent in by reader
Jafar, in Kabul, e-mails: The mood is of hope. Security is quite well and tight. I'm feeling being a part of a democratic process where I will decide my future now. Neither Pakistan nor Iran can decide who will govern this country. I love my country and I love my people, and encourage everyone to vote today.


0838 Karzai is tipped to win but he has three main challengers: ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, of the main opposition alliance; Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an independent candidate and ex-World Bank official; Ramazan Bashardost, another independent candidate, running on an anti-corruption platform.

Bilal Sarwary
0836 The BBC's Bilal Sarwary, in Kabul, says: A small bomb exploded behind a polling station in Kabul, but there were no casualties. There are reports of long queues of women outside a polling station in northern Badakhshan province.

0832 So, Afghanistan's no Jeffersonian democracy yet to be sure. The Taliban are driving Western troops' casualty numbers clicking inexorably upwards at the pace of a taximeter. Much blood and treasure has been spent and reconstruction has been slow, but most agree there has been some progress. Afghanistan's at the crossroads, where next?

Harun Najafizadeh
0830 BBC Persian TV's Harun Najafizada, in Mazar-e-Sharif, says: I'm writing from Sultan Ghiasudin High School. Tens of people have come to vote. Most of them are middle-aged, but I can see some young men in jeans and T-shirts. I've only seen three women voters so far.

Ian Pannell
0823 The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says: Early morning Kabul is eerily quiet. Most shops are closed and for now the number of police and security on the streets outnumbers the pedestrians. Cars have been driving around the streets playing patriotic music and messages from loudspeakers.

Britney Spears
Is Britney Spears going to vote in the Afghan election?

0815 Back to those allegations of voter fraud, "Britney Jamilia Spears" is the name of one of a number of phantom voters who has reportedly surfaced on the lists. Let's just hope the election result's not "Toxic" (That's the name of a Britney song, ha, ha, oh forget it).

0812 The BBC's Mohammad Yaquby, in eastern Ghazni province, says: Voter turnout so far is low. This morning a rocket hit a mechanic's shop in the centre of Ghazni city; no-one was hurt. Ghazni police chief Kheyalbaz Sherzai says police are trying to clear landmines planted by the Taliban around a school to be used as a voting centre.

Aziz Ahmad Shafee
0804 The BBC's Aziz Ahmad Shafee, in Lashkar Gah, Helmand, says: A child has died after a rocket landed 10 metres away from Karzai Stadium in the city.

tweet
strickvl tweets: Fairly sure I just heard bomb in Kandahar city. Will confirm.

Ilyas Khan
0756 The BBC's M Ilyas Khyan, in Herat, says: I've seen queues outside a number of polling stations. One elderly voter told me he was for Karzai because he has kept the country together. He said he wasn't worried by the voting ink on his finger, despite Taliban threats. Herat was safe, he said.

e-mail sent in by reader
Matiullah, in Kabul, e-mails: I am afraid to cast my vote. I personally have decided to stay at home till afternoon. If something doesn't happen, I will go to polling station and cast my vote.

Hamid Karzai votes in Kabul on 20 August 2009
Hamid Karzai casts his vote, hoping for a second term as president

0747 Afghan President Hamid Karzai cast his ballot in Kabul about half an hour before polls officially opened. He's been tipped to win a second term. Voting in a boys' high school near his palace, he urged Afghans to also go to the polls "to decide their future".

0745 The Taliban has issued a series of warnings to people, in "night letters" posted on mosques and other public places, not to vote; including threats to cut off the fingers of anyone displaying the ink used to mark voters' hands. It will soon become clear if the intimidation has paid off.

0740 A salvo of small rockets reportedly hit Afghanistan's southern city of Kandahar just before polls opened, following Taliban threats to disrupt the vote. The provincial governor confirmed it to Reuters. One of the news agency's reporters heard two blasts.

Aziz Ahmad Shafee
0735 The BBC's Aziz Ahmad Shafee, in Helmand, says: I'm in a voting centre in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah. No sign of voters yet, but poll officials are ready in all 37 voting centres across the city. In the two Taliban-run districts - Baghran and Deshow - people won't be able to vote.

Martin Patience
0724 The BBC's Martin Patience says: I'm in the village of Kokoqut, near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif. The poll station here's a school. Police with handheld metal detectors are on duty. Two female poll officials are asking women to pull up their burkas before they vote. A handful of people have already cast ballots; most Afghans do so in the morning and late afternoon. The weather is beautiful.

0712 These are the first Afghan-led polls - albeit with considerable support from the international community - since the US-led invasion of 2001 and indeed, for more than three decades. The presidential election of 2004 and the parliamentary and provincial vote of 2005 were run by the UN.

0700 The first polling stations have opened in Afghanistan's second ever presidential election. We'll be covering all the action here as it unfolds, with input from our correspondents on the ground (see map below).

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