Trucks, helicopters and donkeys carried ballots Monday to counting centers across Afghanistan, where early indications suggested voter turnout in landmark legislative elections Sunday was lower than for last year's presidential vote.

Afghan and international officials hailed the elections as a major success in the country's march toward democracy, but the chief electoral officer of the joint U.N.-Afghan election commission, Peter Erben, said reports from about one-third of the polling stations indicated a turnout of just over 50 percent.

This appeared to confirm suggestions by officials that turnout was affected by fears of violence and frustrations over the inclusion of warlords on the ballot.

The government and its Western backers praised the elections as a strong show of both defiance against threats by the revived Taliban Islamic militia and determination to bring stability after decades of war and chaos. The elections for a national assembly were the country's first in more than 35 years.

President Hamid Karzai praised voters, who cast ballots in schools, mosques and even desert tents, for coming out "in spite of the terrorism, in spite of the threats."

In New York, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the elections showed "the clear determination of the Afghan people to pursue the peaceful and democratic development of their nation."

Taliban rebels had called an election boycott. In the hours before and during the voting, attacks by militants killed at least 15 people, including a French commando -- the latest victims of violence that has killed more than 1,200 people in the past six months.

But with tens of thousands of Afghan and foreign forces providing security, there were no spectacular rebel assaults. Election officials said that no one was killed in attacks near polling stations -- although three voters were wounded -- and that only 16 of the 6,270 stations did not open because of problems.

The voting for 249 seats in parliament and 34 regional councils was the last formal step toward democracy under an internationally sponsored plan laid out following the ouster of the oppressive Taliban by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Security was tight as workers took ballot papers to provincial capitals, where counting was due to start Tuesday. Provisional results are expected by early October.

Election workers move ballot boxes in Kabul. Turnout, projected at just over 50 percent, appeared to be lower than in last year's presidential vote.