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Afghanistan Chooses a New Leader

Afghan election officials have decided to extend voting hours for the presidential election to ensure everyone has an opportunity to vote.

Afghan voters flocked to the polls Saturday amid heavy security.

President Hamid Karzai was among the first to vote Saturday morning. After nearly 12 years in office, he is banned by the constitution for running for office again.

Jan Kubis, the U.N.'s special representative to Afghanistan, praised Afghan voters for the turnout "despite the threats and intimidations" they had received from insurgents.

The head of the Independent Election Commission said turnout was "surprisingly strong" around the country.

Results are not expected for a few weeks. A second round of voting will be needed if none of the eight candidates gets more than half the vote.

Security is tight across the nation because insurgents have promised to disrupt Saturday's vote. The lead-up to the election had been fraught with violence. Yet, voting Saturday seemed to be relatively free of violence.

Afghan officials say they have deployed hundreds of thousands of security forces to protect the country's 12 million eligible voters.

Neighboring Pakistan closed all border crossings with Afghanistan and deployed additional troops in an attempt to help Afghanistan conduct the election peacefully. Pakistan said border security arrangements were stepped up in close coordination with Afghan security forces.

On the eve of the vote one Associated Press journalist (Anja Niedringhaus) was shot and killed and another (Kathy Gannon) wounded by a policeman as they reported on election preparations in Afghanistan. Authorities say the police officer was arrested following the incident inside a heavily-guarded district compound in a remote part of the eastern province of Khost.



It was the third deadly attack against journalists in the past three weeks.

The Taliban had vowed to interfere with Saturday's presidential and provincial council vote.

President Karzai said he was grieved by the shooting of the journalists and ordered a full investigation.

The United Nations, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists all condemned the attack and expressed their condolences.

On March 11, British-Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner was shot and killed at point-blank range on the streets of Kabul. Nine days later, gunmen shot and killed Afghan reporter for the French News agency Sardar Ahmad, as well as his wife and two of his three young children in Kabul's heavily protected Serena Hotel.

The Taliban has claimed responsibility for recent election-related violence, including Tuesday's suicide bombing outside the Afghan Interior Ministry, killing at least six police officers.

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