World News

Historic Election Polls Close in Most of Pakistan

Polls have closed in most areas in Pakistan, in historic elections that will bring about a transition from one civilian administration that finished a full term in office to another civilian administration.

Voters were supposed to stop casting ballots for lawmakers in the National Assembly at 1200 GMT, but officials extended the voting period by one hour Saturday because many people were still waiting to vote. A VOA reporter on the scene says some Pakistanis are still casting ballots in a few areas where voting was extended by three hours due to extremely high turnout.

Scattered incidents of violence left at least 17 people dead on Saturday, and security was high most of the day.

Twin bomb blasts in Karachi killed at least 10 people at a political campaign office for the Awami National Party, one of the parties targeted for attacks by the Taliban. Shootings in the southwestern province of Baluchistan left at least four others dead.

More than 100 people have been killed and scores injured since late April in attacks, as the Taliban sought to undermine the election. Taliban members had warned of suicide attacks on election day.

Pakistani politician and former cricketer Imran Khan is leading the PTI party and creating a challenge to the two parties that have long dominated Pakistani politics. But Khan, who is popular with Pakistan's younger voters, suffered a fall earlier this week and is in a hospital, not able to make campaign appearances.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif leads the Pakistan Muslim League, which is expected to take the majority of votes as candidates compete in the National Assembly.

Public opinion polls indicate that the Pakistan People's Party is trailing its two competitors. The PPP's most prominent member is President Asif Ali Zardari, widower of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

Winners of the 272 seats in Saturday's parliamentary elections will be tasked with leading a country suffering from periodic power failures, a poor economy, a Taliban insurgency and political corruption.

Pakistan's military says it is deployed thousands of troops to polling stations and counting centers.

The recent bombings at two rallies of a leading Islamic party, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, strengthened views the Taliban is opposed to democracy and is targeting anyone taking part in the elections.

On Thursday, the last day of campaigning, militants kidnapped Ali Haider Gilani in Punjab province. He is the son of former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani who is running for a provincial assembly seat.

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