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Afghan Polls Close, Scattered Violence Kills 14

Sean Maroney

Afghans cast their ballots for a new parliament Saturday, despite rocket and bomb attacks during elections seen as a key test of the government's fight against the Taliban and corruption.   As the polls officially closed, the Interior Ministry said at least 11 civilians and three policeman were killed and dozens more injured.

Afghans across much of the country voted Saturday in the face of Taliban threats and scattered acts of violence that marred - but did not seriously disrupt - the parliamentary election.

United Nations Special Envoy to Afghanistan Staffan de Mistura visited polling stations in the capital Kabul as part of the international contingent of observers making sure the election is free and fair.

He told reporters a number of procedures are in place to combat voter fraud, including identifying voters, using special ink to mark those who have voted and keeping track of all ballot boxes. "Today is a crucial day.  Security is a concern and fraud is a concern.  That is why we are not here to observe; we are here to encourage that those procedures continue," he said.

Andy Campbell is the country director for the National Democratic Institute, which is helping to monitor the vote.  Campbell spoke to VOA at a polling station in Kabul. "We've had reports come in from around the country that in some places it has worked well and in other places it has not.  That is to be expected.  The largest exercise that a country undertakes in peace time is an election or a census, and we're doing it in an active insurgency environment.  But, procedures are generally being followed," he said.

Campbell is no stranger to elections in Afghanistan; Saturday's vote is his fourth in the country.  He says generally, each election has gotten better in terms of fighting voter fraud.  However, he did call last year's fraud-marred presidential election an "anomaly."

Despite being in the relatively secure capital, Campbell was conspicuous with his large bulletproof vest under his suit jacket and plainclothes security team keeping watch.

The Taliban has vowed to disrupt the election and has urged voters to stay home.  Insurgents have claimed responsibility for abducting a candidate and 18 election workers in the run up to the vote.

But U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura says the statistic of 18 people kidnapped out of the total 86,000 election workers shows progress for the vote in terms of security. "Last year there were 272 serious incidents, so we have to look at it again in context," he said.

The Afghan Defense Ministry says nearly 300,000 Afghan police and soldiers, backed by 150,000 international troops, are providing security during the election.

Preliminary results are not expected before October 8.  Officials likely will announce final results at the end of next month, following the resolution of any complaints of fraud or misconduct.

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