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Defiant Afghans vote despite violence

Some Afghans voted eagerly Thursday in the presidential election, even though threats of violence kept many from the polls.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some Afghans voted eagerly Thursday in the presidential election, even though threats of violence kept many from the polls.

Those who defied the militants' threats and went to the polls displayed a range of emotions: pride, fear and hope that maybe with their votes, life would improve in the war-wracked country.

"I know the security situation of my country is not good, but I have made my decision to come and cast my vote anyway," said Shukran Ahmad, 32, as he waited at a polling center in western Kabul.

"I wanted to be the first person to vote today in this polling center," Ahmad said, dressed in pale blue traditional robes. He said four others in his family, including his sister and his mother, also planned to vote.

One Kabul center that swarmed with people in 2004 opened on time at 7 a.m. — but with no voters.

The owner of a shop nearby did not see the point in casting his ballot.

"I am not voting. It won't change anything in our country," said Mohammad Tahir, 30.

Associated Press reporters visiting polling stations reported considerably fewer voters than in 2004, when long lines formed well before stations opened. This time there were seldom enough to form a line.

But in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a relatively safe area and a stronghold of presidential contender Abdullah Abdullah, voters came in a steady stream.

"I was so excited last night. All I could think about was today," said 20-year-old Shahima Haidari, a first-time voter.

She cast her ballot for Abdullah, saying she has had enough of the incumbent president, Hamid Karzai.

Enayatullah Stanikzai, a white-bearded man in traditional robes and a black vest, said he believes the president has been a strong leader.

"I voted for Hamid Karzai. He's a good person for the future of Afghanistan. He brought unity to our country," said Stanikzai, accompanied by his 15-year-old son.

"My son asked me to show him the polling center. He was so interested, he said, 'When I turn 18 I want to go vote,'" Stanikzai explained, laughing. He said the rest of his family, including his wife, planned to cast their ballots later in the day.

An explosion at a polling center and a gunfight with insurgents interrupted voting in eastern Kabul.

Mohammad Aslam, a 30-year-old construction supplies salesman, said he was too afraid to vote.

"This morning there was an explosion. And now there's been fighting," he said. Aslam pointed to a nearby mosque. "There is a polling center inside this mosque, but nobody is crazy enough to go there. It's better to stay at home."

In the southern city of Kandahar, voters showed up at polling centers despite rocket attacks in the morning.

"I was afraid to come and cast my vote. But my father encouraged me, 'Be brave you are an Afghan woman, you should have faith. It is the hand of God,'" said Jamila Bibi. "I will go back and tell others to come and vote since there were no problems."

Mohammad Zahir voted at a high school in eastern Kabul for Ramazan Bashardost, a long-shot candidate and fellow member of the Hazara ethnic group who has campaigned against government corruption and the continued power of warlords.

"He spoke really well in the debate. His words made sense to me," said Zahir.

At a Kabul polling center that was temporarily shut down by a bomb that exploded in a bathroom, Abdullah Azizi said he was not dissuaded by the blast.

"This vote is very important for Afghanistan," the 40-year-old teacher said. "We don't care about these blasts.

But amid the bravery was much caution. Matiullah, an election observer for Abdullah in Kabul, said seven or eight of his friends had called him on his cell phone to make sure it was safe to come vote.

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Associated Press writers Amir Shah and Rahim Faiez in Kabul, Nahal Toosi in Mazar-i-Sharif and Noor Khan in Kandahar contributed to this report.