At least 15 people have been killed in a suicide bombing at a Kabul polling station during an Afghan parliamentary election rocked by violence.
Ten civilians and five policeman were killed, and more than 25 people injured, when a bomber tried to enter the school-based station – bringing the total reported killed or injured on election day to almost 170.
It was the biggest attack in a day of voting and a wider election – Afghanistan’s first since 2010 – marred by violence and unrest.
Three people were killed and nearly 40 injured when insurgents fired rockets in the northern city of Kunduz, and elsewhere Taliban insurgents ransacked polling stations and attacked checkpoints.
Other incidents on Saturday included a “sticky bomb”, placed under an intelligence official’s car, and another small explosion at a station in a neighbourhood north of the capital.
In the run-up to voting day two candidates were killed, while polling in Kandahar was delayed for a week after a provincial leader was gunned down by a guard.
Both the Taliban and Islamic State had threatened violence, warning people to stay away from the polls and telling schools to refuse to host polling booths.
The threats may have affected turnout: initial figures suggested that just 1.5 million of around 9 million registered voters cast a ballot.
Many of those who turned up to vote noted that many at the polling stations were women, with some telling journalists that they hoped to “defy the violence”.
More than 50,000 Afghan security forces were deployed across the 21,000 polling stations in the country, and independent election commission member Wasima Badghisy said voters were “very, very brave”.
Tweeting a picture of himself casting his ballot, president Ashraf Ghani thanked the electoral bodies and people of Afghanistan who “made it possible to vote despite the risks involved”.
“Today we proved together that we uphold democracy,” he wrote. “With casting our ballots without fear we honour the sacrifices of the fallen.”
I just voted. And I thank the ANDSF, the IEC staff, and the great people of #Afghanistan who made it possible to vote despite the risks involved. Today we proved together that we uphold democracy. With casting our ballots without fear we honor the sacrifices of the fallen. pic.twitter.com/wrUCEa0MCR
— Ashraf Ghani (@ashrafghani) 20 October 2018
The election was also troubled by administrative glitches and organisational issues, and officials were forced to extend polling by up to four hours when many Afghans were unable to vote within the planned time.
The problems were believed to have been caused by a new biometrics system that had not been tested in the field, while in some polling stations voting began an hour late, frustrating those who had waited for hours.
It is likely that the results of the election will not be released until December.