An Afghan woman, casts her vote at a polling station in western neighborhood of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019.
An Afghan woman, casts her vote at a polling station in western neighborhood of Kabul, Afghanistan, Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Afghans vote amid Taliban attacks

Afghanistan's presidential polls have closed amid fears that accusations of fraud and misconduct could overwhelm any election results, while insurgent attacks aimed at disrupting voting in the country's north and south caused dozens of casualties.

An upsurge in violence in the run-up to the elections, following the collapse of US-Taliban talks to end America's longest war, had already rattled Afghanistan in the past weeks.

Yet on Saturday, many voters expressed equal fear and frustration over relentless government corruption and the widespread chaos at polling stations.

A deeply flawed election and contested result could drive the war-weary country into chaos.

Many Afghans found incomplete voters' lists, unworkable biometric identification systems aimed at curbing fraud, and in some cases hostile election workers.

Ruhollah Nawroz, a representative of the Independent Complaints Commission tasked with monitoring the process, said the problems are countrywide.

Nawroz said he arrived at a polling centre in the Taimani neighbourhood of Kabul, the capital, at 6 am and "hour by hour I was facing problems".

Preliminary results won't be out until October 17, with a final vote count on November 7. If no candidate wins 51 per cent of the vote, a second round will be held between the two leading candidates.

Voter Hajji Faqir Bohman, who was speaking on behalf of disgruntled voters at the Taimani polling centre, said the polling was so disorganised and flawed that even if his candidate wins "I will never believe that it was a fair election".

The leading contenders are incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and his partner in the five-year-old unity government, Abdullah Abdullah, who already alleges power abuse by his opponent.

Cameras crowded both men as they cast their vote earlier in Kabul, with Ghani telling voters they too had a responsibility to call out instances of fraud.

A young woman, Shabnam Rezayee, was attacked by an election worker after insisting on seeing the voter's list when she was told her name was not on the list.

Rezayee said the worker hurled abuses at her, directing her insults at her ethnicity. She then punched and scratched her.

When it ended and the attacker left, Rezayee found her name on the list and voted. "I am very strong," she said.

In Kabul, turnout was sporadic and in the morning hours it was rare to see a crowded polling centre.

On Saturday, one of the first reports of violence came from southern Afghanistan, the former spiritual heartland of the Taliban.

A bomb attack on a local mosque where a polling station was located wounded 15 people, a doctor at the main hospital in the city of Kandahar said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorised to speak with the media.

The wounded included a police officer and several election officials, along with voters. Three were in critical condition.

In northern Kunduz, where Taliban have previously threatened the city - even briefly taking control of some areas - insurgents fired mortar rounds into the municipality and attacked Afghan security forces on its outskirts, said Ghulam Rabani Rabani, a council member for the province.

Rabani said the attacks are to "frighten people and force them to stay in their homes and not participate in the election".

He said ongoing fighting has wounded as many as 40 people.

Tens of thousands of police, intelligence officials and Afghan National Army personnel were deployed throughout the country to protect the 4942 election centres.

Authorities said 431 polling centres will stay closed because it was impossible to guarantee their security since they were either in areas under Taliban control or where insurgents could threaten nearby villages.

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