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Afghans Vote In Presidential Runoff

Polls have closed in Afghanistan and the tallying has begun in the second round of a presidential vote to pick a successor to Hamid Karzai.

Defying Taliban threats, Afghan voters had formed long lines at polling stations in Kabul and were voting in some of the least secure parts of the country, according to correspondents for RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan.

The runoff pits former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah against ex-World Bank economist and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani in a vote that should mark the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan.
RFE/RL LIVE BLOG follows events on election day and beyond

After casting his ballot in Kabul, first-round front-runner Abdullah sent a message to the people of Afghanistan: "Today is your day, today is our day, and today is Afghanistan's day.”

“A better future is waiting for them, a better prosperous life is waiting for them, a peaceful life is waiting for them," he added.

Karzai said: “The gathering of people at polling stations and the voting will lead the country toward better stability, better governance, and a better life.”
Presidential Candidate Abdullah Abdullah Casts Ballot In Runoff Vote
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Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani, the head of the Afghan Independent Election Commission, sought to reassure voters and observers that the organizers would ensure that the electoral process delivered a legitimate winner.

According to officials, thousands of security forces were deployed in the streets of Kabul and around 400,000 across the country to ensure security on election day.

The Taliban intensified attacks ahead of the vote and warned people to “remain far away from the polling stations,” but no major attacks were reported in the initial stages of the voting.

Hours before polls closed, RFA Kabul bureau chief Abdul Hameed Mohmand said the voting process appeared to be "going well so far."

He added that large numbers of men and women looked to be taking part, including in the most insecure places, such as Logar Province.
Kabul Voters Queue To Participate In 'Historic' Election
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There were reports of three explosions on the north side of the Afghan capital and one on the west side just before polls opened, but officials said there were no casualties.

Abdul Wahed Pathan, deputy governor for the eastern province of Khost, told dpa news agency that five children were killed and six other people wounded when a rocket hit a house in Alisher district.

Pathan said the election was generally going on “normally” in the province, but that some polling centers ran out of ballot sheets.

Also in the east, AFP news agency reported that a rocket hit a polling station, killing two voters.

Noor Muhammad Noor, a spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Elections Commission, told Radio Free Afghanistan that the election process has been "successful."

After visiting polling stations, Thijs Berman, the chief observer of the EU Election assessment team in Afghanistan, said: "Based on what I saw, it's been a very calm election day with vigilant security."

"As in the first round, I saw very determined voters," Berman told Reuters news agency.
Security Tight At Kandahar Polling Stations
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Abdullah is considered the favorite after leading in the first round of the election, conducted on April 5, with 45 percent of the vote versus Ghani's 31.6 percent.

The winner should be sworn in for a five-year term as Afghanistan's next president with the exit of Karzai, who was first named to head the country by a UN-backed deal after the Taliban were ousted in late 2001.

Final results are expected to be announced on July 22.
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP