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May 28, 2017

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Afghanistan hails largely peaceful runoff vote

KABUL -- Afghanistan hailed another successful election Saturday when Taliban militants failed to launch a major attack and millions of voters turned out to choose a new president as U.S.-led troops withdraw.

Fraud allegations were likely from both campaign teams after the runoff vote, and a close count could lead to a contested result as the country undergoes its first democratic transfer of power.

Despite being mainly peaceful, polling day saw at least 150 minor attacks, including a Taliban rocket that hit a house near a polling station in the eastern province of Khost, killing five members of the same family.

The election will decide whether former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani leads the country into a new era of declining international military and civilian assistance.

"The voting has gone well and as planned. As you see, the turnout has been large," said Independent Election Commission chief Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani.

He admitted there had also been problems with ballot paper shortages, but said that affected polling stations had been re-supplied.

President Hamid Karzai is due to step down after ruling Afghanistan since 2001, when a U.S.-led offensive ousted the austere Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaida militants behind the 9/11 attacks.

A smooth handover would be a major achievement for the international effort to establish a functioning state after the depredations of the Taliban era.

"We are very proud to be choosing our favorite candidate," Karzai said after voting. "Today Afghanistan goes from a transition period toward long-lasting peace."

Security and Jobs

In the first-round vote in April, the insurgents also failed to launch a high-profile attack and voter turnout was more than 50 percent.

"As we promised, the security was better and we had better planning," said interior minister Omar Daudzai on Saturday. "The enemy's attacks have had very little impact."

Daudzai said the day was proof that the security forces, who have been trained by the U.S.-led military coalition, were able to protect the country as all NATO-lead combat troops exit Afghanistan this year.

Both candidates cast their ballots in Kabul before dipping a finger in ink to register that they had voted.

"We do not want even one fraudulent vote for us," Abdullah told reporters, while Ghani said via Twitter: "We ask everyone to prevent, avoid and discourage people from rigging."

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