Heavy turnout for the Afghan presidential election has prompted an extension of voting on Saturday by an hour, an election official said.
Wide participation in the national polling was observed halfway through the election day despite insurgent security threats, Mohammad YousufNooristani, chief of Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission, told a news conference in Kabul. Polls will now close at 5 p.m. local (8:30 a.m. ET).
Outgoing President Hamid Karzai earlier cast his vote in the election, adding his voice to those of Afghans across the nation as they choose their next leader. Karzai is constitutionally bound to step down when his term runs out and the next president has been determined.
The reportedly strong turnout comes despite threats from the Taliban to disrupt the vote and punish all involved in the first democratic transfer of presidential power in the country’s turbulent history.
Insurgent attacks on polling centers Saturday left at least one person dead in Badghis province and four others wounded in Kunduz province, Nooristani said.
Officials in the eastern Afghan province of Khost said a suicide bomber clad in an explosives vest blew himself up near a polling center. No other casualties were reported.
In addition, 211 out of 6,423 polling sites could not be opened due to insecurity in the country, he announced. Reports of violence and people fleeing from polling stations popped up on social media.
Violence has overshadowed the run-up to the vote.
On Friday, two Associated Press journalists were shot in Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, an attack which left award-winning German photographer Anja Niedringhaus dead and injured Canadian reporter Kathy Gannon.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance gate to the Interior Ministry in Kabul, killing six Afghan police officers.
A day earlier, the Taliban killed a provincial council candidate and nine of his supporters.
Last month, Sardar Ahmad, one of Afghanistan’s most prominent journalists, was among nine people killed in an attack in central Kabul.
Less than two weeks earlier, Swedish Radio correspondent Nils Horner was shot dead in broad daylight on a Kabul street.