Afghans vote against fear. Karzai against Abdullah
About 50% of eligible voters cast ballots. 73 attacks in 15 provinces with dozens of deaths. Karzai announces victory, but is accused of fraud. Final results in two weeks.

Kabul (AsiaNews) - Defying Taliban threats and mistrust of the current situation in the country, Afghans went to the 6200 polling stations to elect the president and 420 provincial representatives. The campaign spokesman for Karzai has claimed victory for his candidate, but charges of fraud and manipulation of votes in his favour continue to emerge, even from the other favoured candidate, Abdullah Abdullah.  

The UN states that in general there were no major irregularities. Voter enthusiasm was less than that seen in the 2004 elections and there were no long queues outside polling stations. Of the 17 million eligible voters nearly half cast their ballots; in 2004 the percentage was 70%.

From early estimates it appears there was an increase in turnout in the north and this should favour the former Foreign Minister Abdallah. In the south, however, where there is greater support for Karzai, but where there is also greater Taliban influence, the turnout was weak.

Yesterday, the President thanked all the voters for their show of courage, defining the day "a day of pride and glory." According to the Presidents Office, there were 73 attacks in 15 of the 34 provinces of the country. Nine civilians and nine policemen, eight Afghan soldiers were killed in clashes in which dozens of Taliban guerrillas also died. In the province of Herat three polling stations were attacked and burnt. But the most violent attacks occurred in Baghlan in the north and Uruzgan in the centre of the country.  

Over the past eight years the multinational forces and the Karzai have been unable to defeat the Taliban, which indeed seems to have gathered strength. At the same time, the country has seen no improvement whatsoever. According to a Kabul government report to the UN, Afghanistan is among the five poorest countries in the world for income, life expectancy and literacy.

Initial results should be announced tomorrow, but it will take two weeks for a complete count of the votes.