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Security forces on high alert as Afghanistan presidential election gets underway

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Voting is under way in Afghanistan’s presidential election, the fourth since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Incumbent President Ashraf Ghani is seen as the frontrunner in the 15-man race, with Abdullah Abdullah, the country’s chief executive, considered his main rival.

Security forces are on high alert due to threats from the Taliban to attack polling stations.

Here are all the latest updates:

No contact with hundreds of polling centres
Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) said it had lost contact with 901 of the country’s 5,373 polling centres.

Habib-Ur-Rahman Nang, head of the IEC secretariat, said the commission was not able to communicate with polling centers in the provinces of Badakhshan, Takhar, Kunduz and Baghlan, where telecom services were not active, local media TOLO News reported.

In addition, 464 polling centers in 17 provinces were closed, including 33 centres which lacked election materials, election commissioner Mawlana Mohammad Abdullah said.

‘Trying to take my vote’
Shahla was not able to cast her ballot as IEC workers refused to help her cast a vote [Ali M Latifi/Al Jazeera] A voter named Shahla said electoral workers at Naderia High School in Kabul’s Kartei Parwan neighborhood refused her permission to cast her ballot because the system showed she had already voted.

“I’ve voted here before with the same ID. If I had already voted once today, why isn’t my finger marked with ink?”

“I’m not illiterate, why would I do such a thing? They are trying to take my vote with a ridiculous, baseless claim,” Shahla told Al Jazeera, expressing her anger and disappointment.

‘In and out very quickly’
Mustafa Azizi said he did not face any problems voting at a school Chelsetoon, in west Kabul.

“Everything was orderly, I was in and out very quickly,” he said.

“I didn’t see anyone complaining but I’ve heard reports of issues at [Kabul’s] Habibia [area].”

Problems reported with biometric devices
Dozens of people were turned away or had to wait for hours to vote at Kandahar’s Sayeed Jamaluddin High School due to problems with two biometric devices, according to reports.

Some 600 people were registered at this centre.

Similar issues were reported in Kunar province.

Afghan president hails landmark polls
Ghani cast his ballot in Kabul, hailing the election as a sign of strengthening democracy in Afghanistan.

“It is a moment of pride for me that a major part of the election expenses have been paid by the Afghan government,” he said.

Ghani also stressed the need for fairness and urged election observers to monitor the process.

Voting delays, heavy security
Independent Election Commission staff showed up late at a polling station in Kabul’s Herati Masjed, delaying the voting process by almost an hour.

At least four people were turned away after voting started amid problems with voters’ names appearing in the electoral roll.

“The IEC is hiring incapable, illiterate people, this is why it’s happening,” Shah Bolbol, who waited for three hours to vote, told Al Jazeera.

He was asked to go to the IEC offices as his name did not appear on the voter list.

However, others were able to vote without any problems.

“The services were good, the security was good. I was very happy to go and vote. No one was afraid,” Mohammd Wahid, a Kabul resident, told Al Jazeera.

Low turnout reported in Kabul
Reporting from a polling station in Kabul at 10am local time, Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley said the turnout appeared to be low compared with the 2014 presidential polls.

“Five years ago, when presidential elections were held there were lines of people here and now I have barely seen 200 people who have been voted here in the last two hour,” he said.

“It’s either because of the security situation or because people here become very disillusioned with the political situation. Five years ago, they were promised big changes, such as the economy and security will be improved, but none of that happened. So people here think if they vote it’s going to be more of the same.”

Birtley said there were reports of explosions in Kandahar and in the north of Kabul, while a mortar was reportedly fired in Helmand province.

Blast at Kandahar polling station wounds 15
At least 17 people were wounded when a bomb exploded outside a polling station in the southern city of Kandahar, a hospital official said, hours after the polls opened.

Naimatullah, the head of a regional hospital who only has one name, told AFP news agency that “15 people – all men – were injured and were brought to the hospital”.

Polls opened across Afghanistan in the country’s fourth presidential election since the Taliban was removed from power in 2001 in a US-led invasion.

Voting stations are scheduled to close at 5pm (12:30 GMT).

Security tops voters’ concerns
In the lead-up to the vote, the precarious security situation and the struggling economy seemed to be dominating voters’ concerns.

“In Afghanistan, from the moment you wake up to when you put your head down to sleep, you are in danger,” Kabul resident Farooq Saidzada said.

Who are the candidates? What are the main issues? What is being done to ensure security?

Go here to find out the answers to these questions – and much more.

Source: Al Jazeera

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