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Afghan elections marked by violence, 'irregularities,' modest turnout

Early returns suggest that about 40 percent of the country's voters went to the polls Saturday in the nation's second parliamentary election.

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By David Nakamura and Ernesto Londoño
Saturday, September 18, 2010; 12:48 PM

KABUL - There were "widespread irregularities" but no evidence of "massive fraud" in Afghanistan's parliamentary elections, the chief U.N. envoy here said Saturday evening.

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Citing early reports from his staff and observers around the country, Staffan de Mistura called the country's second parliamentary vote a "mixed picture."

"It was a rough day from a security point of view," he said in an interview four hours after polls closed. "The Afghan security forces did their best and made a major effort, but there were major incidents."

De Mistura said it would take days to ascertain the scope of fraud that took place, particularly in insecure rural areas that have been trouble spots in past elections.

Late Saturday, Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak told reporters that insurgents had carried out attacks in 17 of the country's 34 provinces throughout the day.

The attacks killed at least 11 civilians and three police officers, authorities said, and wounded 45 civilians and 13 police officers.

Interior Minister Bismillah Khan said authorities recorded 63 incidents involving heavy gunfire and 33 bomb explosions. More than 4,100 fake voter registration cards were confiscated, he said.

Meanwhile, preliminary turnout figures released by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission suggested that approximately 40 percent of registered voters went to the polls Saturday.

About 3.6 million votes were cast in the 4,632 polling stations that had reported numbers to the capital by Saturday night, commission chief Fazal Ahmad Manawi said at a news conference.

Manawi said the most prevalent form of fraud detected Saturday involved voters who managed to remove from their fingers the supposedly indelible ink that showed they had cast a ballot - and who then attempted to vote again.

Among those who turned out in Kabul were some who professed to be unafraid of threats from Taliban insurgents to wreak havoc.

"I wasn't afraid. It's my own country, so why should I be afraid?" said Reza Khan, 27, a cook who voted at Kabul's Naderia High School. He cited a need for jobs for the unemployed as a top issue and added that he was voting "for the betterment and rebuilding of my country."

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