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21 Aug, 2009 20:37

Afghanistan’s presidential rivals claim victory

Both major candidates in Afghanistan's presidential election, the current president Hamid Karzai and his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah, are claiming victory after Thursday's vote.

However, an official verdict will be delivered only in early September.

Turnout has been very low, particularly in areas dominated by the Taliban, and many of the Afghan people have stayed at home. Violent threats from the Taliban became reality as 26 people were killed in terror attacks on Election Day. Authorities claim around only half of eligible voters have cast a ballot.

Some analysts believe that the Taliban succeeded in its media campaign against the elections.

Despite massive deployment of Afghan troops and the police to the capital Kabul, many Afghans have been afraid to make the journey to the polling sites.

Several days ago Taliban distributed pamphlets in the southern part of the country threatening voters that if they go to the polling stations, they will be killed or beaten.

Journalists have been banned from broadcasting any violence.

In one case a group of militants who are believed to be Taliban rebels have broken into one of the polling stations on the outskirts of Kabul and seized control of the building. One of the militants was reportedly wearing a suicide bomb belt. After an intense gun battle between the Afghan troops and the rebels, the authorities regained control over the area, allegedly killing two Taliban.

It’s also being reported that when media tried to approach the scene to cover the issue, the authorities snatched their cameras and all their footage. Local observers report that it has been extremely difficult to move around Kabul on election day due to roadblocks.

All this means that Taliban was highly successful in disturbing the election’s polling stations.

There have been rocket attacks in Kandahar in the southeast of the country, with four people believed injured. A young child has been killed in the southern Helmand province after more than 20 rockets were fired into the main city Lashkar Gah, the Associated Press reports.

All in all, election day has seen 73 terrorist attacks across the country. However, according to one of the presidential candidates, former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, despite the risk and Taliban threats, the Afghanistan people dared come to the polling stations.

“Turnout was not as good as it was a few years ago, but still, overall I think that was a message from the people of Afghanistan that people wanted change and they took a risk and they voted,” he said.

The latest polls say incumbent Hamid Karzai, who has held power since the Taliban leader was ousted eight years ago, stands first in the race for the presidency of Afghanistan. But expectations are high for Abdullah Abdullah, his closest rival, and polls suggest he may yet force a runoff.

In total 36 official candidates are in the ballot. Afghan people hope the new president will be able to bring change to the country, Ghulam Mokhammed, leader of the Afghan community in Moscow told RT.

“We expect the situation in Afghanistan in general to improve after the election. Will it be a real election? Well, it's a bit too far-stretched to call it that. There are places where the election will really happen. But there are also places under the Taliban’s control, where people will definitely be forbidden to vote and there will be a set of measures to stop them from going to the polls,” Mokhammed said.