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Afghanistan holds parliamentary vote
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.
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.
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.
President Karzai was one of the early voters in the capital, saying it was a good day for Afghanistan whatever the result.
"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.
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.
Taliban fighters failed to sabotage Afghanistan's first legislative elections in decades, with millions of voters turning out for a ballot President Hamid Karzai called a defining moment for the nation.
There was no major violence against voters on Sunday, despite more than two dozen harassing attacks by the guerrillas across the troubled south and east in which 14 people died.
"We're building our country, we're making our parliament," Mohammed Twahir, 36, told Reuters after voting in the southern city of Kandahar, once a bastion of support for the Taliban.
"Before there was no democracy, now we have democracy. Democracy means freedom."
That enthusiasm was echoed by many other voters.
"I'm so happy, I couldn't sleep last night and was watching the clock to come out to vote," said Qari Salahuddin, 21, in the eastern city of Jalalabad soon after voting began.
Others were sceptical. One woman who gave her name as Simabol told Aljazeera that “Most candidates have exploited their political and material clout to be elected to the parliament.''
Aljazeera’s correspondent in Afghanistan Yousif al-Shuli said thousands of Afghan and foreign troops were on the streets in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
There was an early scare in Kabul when two rockets hit a UN compound near an election centre shortly after polls opened, wounding an Afghan worker, Reuters reported.
Most of the fatalities occurred in violence near the Pakistani border, just before and during the UN-organised vote.
Rockets and mortars killed at least five civilians, two of them children, and a mine blast killed a French soldier. A Taliban fighter died attacking a polling station overnight and three more were killed in a clash in which two police officers died.
But the UN-Afghan election commission said voting in the first legislative elections since 1969 had been remarkably peaceful and the government hailed a victory over the insurgents.
"It went very well, beyond our expectations. After all their boasting, it's a big failure for the Taliban," said Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal.
Voting was held at more than 6000 polling sites from the deserts of the south to the towering Hindu Kush mountains of the northeast, one of the most difficult logistical operations undertaken by international electoral workers.
About 12.5 million Afghans registered to vote for a lower house of parliament and provincial councils for which about 5800 candidates sought seats. Donkeys and camels transported voting materials to some remote districts.
Chief electoral officer Peter Erben described it as a "peaceful and good election" free of significant security incidents and said he thought turnout had been high, although election observers said it appeared fewer had voted than in last year's presidential election, which saw a 70% turnout.
A huge security operation was mounted to protect voters, involving 100,000 troops, about 20,000 from a US-led force and 10,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, after more than 1000 people died in violence in the months ahead of the election
The deaths included seven candidates and six poll workers.
The $159 million polls were part of an international plan to restore democracy after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 and followed October presidential polls won by Karzai.
In the 249-seat national assembly, 68 seats are reserved for women, and election officials said there appeared to have been a high turnout of women in some conservative areas where their participation had been in doubt.
"I am so happy, so happy," said Khatereh Mushafiq, 18, her black veil decorated with white flowers pulled back from her beaming face as she went to vote at a girl's school in Kandahar.
"We are also now taking part in the government and in society. People must take part, people must have a say."
Karzai called it a historic day.
"The Afghan people have proven once again that they know their interest, that they can work for tomorrow, that they have a vision and that they have voted for that vision," he said.
But he warned the vote would not end the insurgency.
"The attack on Afghanistan will continue tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," he said.
Boost for US
Even so, a successful poll will be a boost for the US administration, allowing it to portray Afghanistan as a success to set against the gloom from Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.
The election is expected to produce a fragmented national assembly focusing on local interests, which some analysts say may be more of a help than a hindrance to Karzai.
Many Afghans have been dismayed that warlords blamed for rights abuses have been able to run in the elections.
Erben said counting would start on Tuesday and take about 16 days with final results on 22 October.
Yunus Qanuni, runner up to Karzai last year and now leading an opposition bloc, predicted before the polls that his alliance would win 50 percent of seats. Karzai, who has not campaigned, said he would welcome opposition from a new parliament.