By RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan; photos by Mohammadreza Hashemi, ISNA
Polling stations in Afghanistan have closed, though election officials say voters still waiting in line will be able to cast their ballots. Earlier, election officials announced that polling stations would remain open an extra hour due to the large turnout and heavy rains that delayed voters from reaching polling stations.
Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nuristani told reporters in Kabul that "if we find out that people couldn't vote due to crowds at the voting centers, poor roads, and bad transportation, the time will be extended for as long as it takes -- even if it is until 7 p.m. or 8p.m. We will wait for the very last person to cast his or her ballot."
Nuristani added that 211 out of some 6,000 polling stations across the country had been closed due to security concerns.
Nuristani also said that one voter was killed in the northwestern Badghis Province in election-related violence and four other people were injured in a separate incident in the Chardhara district of Kandahar Province.
Meanwhile, an adviser at the Election Commission, Atal Amin, said polling centers in many areas of the country were running out of ballots. He named Herat, Balkh, and Faryab provinces and said additional ballots had been sent.
The presidential election will be Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power in history.
In Kabul and elsewhere, reports say voters lined up at polling centers from early morning to vote amid tight security. A voter in Kabul told Reuters that citizens like him want change in the Afghan political system.
"Today, we have come here to vote and participate in a political process that we wish, with the help of God, will put an end to the corrupt system," he said. "The people of Afghanistan are keen to vote. I am personally eager to vote for change."
As well as the first round of the presidential election, voters cast ballots for provincial councils.
Two of the front-runners in the presidential election, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, commented to the press after casting their ballots.
Ghani, a former finance minister, said the large turnout at polling stations sent a message to the enemies of Afghanistan that their threats cannot intimidate the country's people.
Abdullah, a former foreign minister, called the election "one step forward toward a better future."
After voting at a polling station near the presidential palace, President Hamid Karzai urged his countrymen to go to the polling stations "despite the rain, cold weather, and enemy threats."
"Today is an important day for our future, the future of our country," he added.
Independent Election Commission head Nuristani called on the Afghan people to "prove to the enemies of Afghanistan that nothing can stop them."
Three contenders are expected to dominate the eight-man race to succeed Karzai, who has ruled for 12 years and is constitutionally barred from seeking a third term. Widespread violence, massive fraud and vote-rigging marred Karzai's reelection in 2009.
The front-runners are Ghani and two former foreign ministers, Abdullah and Zalmai Rasul.
Authorities said more than 350,000 troops were being deployed to thwart the Taliban which has vowed to disrupt the election. The militants regard the vote as a farce orchestrated by Western countries.
On the eve of the vote, award-winning German photographer Anja Niedringhaus was killed and Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon was injured when a police officer opened fire on their car in the eastern town of Khost.
The police officer has been arrested. No organization has claimed responsibility.
Niedringhaus is the third journalist working for international media to be killed in Afghanistan during the election campaign.
First Results In Three Weeks
Afghanistan has 12 million eligible voters, and some 200,000 Afghan observers were expected to monitor the vote.
Some international observers pulled out after the Taliban last month attacked a high-security Kabul hotel, where many foreigners, including election monitors, were staying. Nine Afghan and foreign civilians were killed in the attack.
Preliminary results from the first round are expected on April 24 and a final result on May 14, around six weeks after voting day.
With no clear front-runner, it's unlikely that any of the candidates will secure more than the 50 percent of the vote required to win outright. In that case, there will be a runoff between the two leading candidates on May 28.
The transfer of power to a new president is occurring as most Western combat forces are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP
Copyright (c) 2014 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
More photos of today's voting:
By Mohammadreza Hashemi, Islamic Republic News Agency
... Payvand News - 04/05/14 ... --