Voting ends in Afghan presidential runoff

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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) — Afghans have finished casting their ballots to pick a president in a runoff election between former Cabinet ministers.

Saturday’s runoff between former Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani went on despite incidents of violence: Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Gen. Mohammad Ayoub Salangi said 10 Afghan soldiers, 14 civilians and 19 insurgents were killed in a day that saw nearly 150 attacks throughout the country. Salangi said more than 60 Afghan troops and 41 civilians were injured in those attacks, as were 10 insurgents.

Insurgents cut off the inked fingers of 11 voters, mostly of whom were elderly men returning home from a polling station in Herat province, according to Samiullah Qatra, the police chief of Western Herat province. The injured men were taken to a hospital, Salangi tweeted.

Citizens have their fingers inked to show that they have voted.

Even though the day was marked by violence, the International Security Assistance Force still lauded the election as a security success.

“ISAF commends the Afghan National Security Forces, who essentially conducted non-stop security operations following the April 5th elections,” said an ISAF news release. “The ANSF led all aspects of security, securing approximately 6,200 polling centers across the country. This is a historic accomplishment.”

Third vote since Taliban’s fall

The Obama administration praised the “historic presidential election” on Saturday.

“These elections are a significant step forward on Afghanistan’s democratic path, and the courage and resolve of the Afghan people to make their voices heard is a testament to the importance of these elections to securing Afghanistan’s future,” read a statement from White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. “As the President said when he reaffirmed our continuing commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014, while the future of Afghanistan must be decided by Afghans, the United States will support the Afghan people as they continue the hard work of building a democracy.”

This is the third election since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and it’s set to be the first democratic transfer of power in the fragile, war-torn country.

After casting his own ballot, President Hamid Karzai gave a short speech urging other voters to head to polling stations, the presidential palace said. Their participation would help lead to “stability and a prosperous life” in the country, he said.

“In reality, today is the day that Afghanistan is stepping from a transition period to stability, development and peace,” he said.

“Today is your day to come out and save your soil from being ruined, bring stability to your country, brighten its future, choose your president and found the future of children of this soil by your vote.”

Karzai opponent was top vote getter in first round

Abdullah was a vocal critic of the Taliban during their years in power. Although he was once an ally of Karzai, serving in his government as foreign minister, he has in recent years become an opponent.

He challenged Karzai in the 2009 election but dropped out after the first round to protest what he said was large-scale voting fraud.

Ghani is a former academic and U.S. citizen who gave up his passport to run for the Afghan presidency in 2009. He worked as an adviser to Karzai and as finance minister in his Cabinet.

In the general election on April 5, Abdullah secured 45% of the vote, while Ghani got 31.6%. A candidate needs to receive more than 50% of the votes to win the first round and avoid a runoff.

Vote counting has already started in some provinces, including northern Balkh and southern Kandahar, Afghan election officials said. Some 7 million turned out to vote in the April 5 election, but there was no immediate information available about Saturday’s turnout.

The results will be announced on July 22, the election commission said.

By Masoud Popalzai

Journalist Qadir Sediqi contributed to this report.

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