Kabul: Afghans flocked to polling stations nationwide on Saturday, defying a threat of violence by the Taliban to cast ballots in what promises to be the nation's first democratic transfer of power.
Amid tight security, men in traditional tunics and loose trousers, and women covered in burqas lined up at polling centers more than an hour before they opened in Kabul and elsewhere.
Excitement was high as Afghans chose from a field of eight presidential candidates as well as provincial councils. With three men considered front-runners, nobody was expected to get the majority needed for an outright victory so a runoff was widely expected.
Hundreds of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers fanned out across the country, searching cars at checkpoints and blocking vehicles from getting close to polling stations.
Some voters were searched three times in Kabul, and text messages were blocked in an apparent attempt to prevent candidates from last-minute campaigning.
On Friday, veteran Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed and AP reporter Kathy Gannon was wounded when an Afghan policeman opened fire while the two were sitting in their car in the eastern city of Khost.
The two were at a security forces base, waiting to move in a convoy of election workers delivering ballots.
Niedringhaus, 48, an internationally acclaimed German photographer, was killed instantly, while Gannon, 60, was hospitalized in Kabul and is in stable condition.