Polls in Afghanistan are set to open for presidential and provincial elections (eds: polls open 0230 UTC, 2230 EDT), despite threats by the Taliban to disrupt the balloting.
Incumbent Afghan President Hamid Karzai faces some 30 challengers. His
top rivals include Abdullah Abdullah, the former foreign minister;
Ashraf Ghani, the former finance minister; and Ramazan Bashardost, a
popular lawmaker from Kabul. Voters also will cast ballots for advisory
Opinion polls ahead of the election showed Mr. Karzai with a
significant lead, but it may not be enough to avoid a runoff.
Candidates must get more than 50 percent of the vote to win.
Mr. Karzai has urged Afghans not to allow a rise in militant violence this week to keep them from voting.
Wednesday, three gunmen stormed a bank in Kabul and engaged in a
firefight with police, who killed them and recovered their weapons. The
Taliban claimed responsibility for the assault and promised more
attacks on election day.
Security has been heightened, with new checkpoints throughout Kabul.
Officials say Afghan police will patrol the country's 6,500 polling
stations while Afghan soldiers guard an outer perimeter. NATO announced
that it will halt offensive operations during balloting and provide
back-up support in the event of violence.
Afghan officials, worried about the effect violence may have on voter
turnout, asked news media Wednesday to not report on any attacks while
polls are open. The move was roundly criticized by Afghan journalists
and some said they would ignore it.
Initial results are expected to be released 48 hours after the vote.