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Voting Over In Landmark Afghan Election

Kabul, 9 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Polling stations in Afghanistan have closed following voting in the country's first-ever direct presidential election, with all but one of the 16 candidates vowing to challenge the election due to irregularities.

Turnout was reportedly high around the country and there were only isolated and minor reports of violence during the day despite strong fears that opponents of the process would seek to disrupt the voting through attacks on polling stations.

Faruq Wardak, the director of the secretariat of the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), said people who were standing in line before the official closing time would be able to cast their ballots.

Rivals to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai complained that the election was flawed largely due to problems with the ink used to mark voters' fingers to prevent them from casting more than one ballot. All 15 of Karzai's challengers today called for a halt to voting after it became clear that in some cases the ink could be washed away easily.

The JEMB rejected halting the election but vowed that all complaints will be investigated.

Karzai, widely viewed as the front-runner ahead of the vote, said that "just because 15 people have said 'no', we can't deny the votes of millions."

"It's too late in the day to call for a boycott of the Afghan election, first of all," Karzai said. "The Afghan people have already gone and voted and I think all of us, all of the candidates, must respect the very fact that the Afghan people have come out of their homes in the snow and rain and dust and waited for hours to vote and we should respect these results whatever they may be and allow time for the joint commission to study whatever irregularities that there were."

Preliminary results are not expected for at least 48 hours.

If no candidate receives a majority of the vote a two-way runoff will be scheduled for November.

[For more on the Afghan elections, see RFE/RL and Radio Free Afghanistan's dedicated "Afghanistan Votes 2004-05" webpage.]