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Afghanistan votes in presidential election

Afghans have gone to the polls in the presidential election, with security forces deployed at full capacity. Insurgents have launched attacks in the run-up to the poll for a successor to President Hamid Karzai.

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Afghanistan votes amid terror threats

Voters on Saturday decided on a new president for the first democratic handover of power in the country's history.

Security was tight after a series of attacks by insurgents, including the fatal shooting on Friday of a German photojournalist.

It is the first time Afghanistan is conducting an election without direct foreign assistance in the process. Voters are able to cast their ballots at any polling station in the country, with each person marked with non-washable ink on their finger to avoid fraud (seen above).

The third presidential election will bring to an end the administration of President Karzai, who has led the country since the US-led invasion of 2001, which ousted the Taliban.

Karzai's successor will face a tough task, with Afghan forces set to take full control of the fight against the Taliban at the end of this year.

Afghan Interior Minister Omar Daudzai said all 400,000 of the country's police, army and intelligence services were being deployed for the poll.

The NATO coalition force in Afghanistan, which numbers some 53,000 combat troops, is set to fully withdraw from the country by December this year.

However, it is expected that the arrival of a new leader might ease tensions between the presidency and Western forces, which have become increasingly fraught in recent years. Such a thawing of relations could allow the signing of an agreement that would allow a small number US forces to remain in the country into 2015, easing security fears at least in part.

Photojournalist becomes latest fatality

The vote was overshadowed in Western media by the death of German photographer Anja Niedringhaus, shot dead by an Afghan police commander in the eastern region of Khost. The 48-year-old had been working in Afghanistan for the AP news agency, and became the third journalist to die during the presidential campaign.

Afghans will likely have some time to wait before their new president assumes power. With an extensive period of deal-making likely even after results are announced, the inauguration is not expected to take place until August - or even later.

Preliminary results from the first round are due on April 24, with final result nearly six weeks after polling day, on March 14. If, as predicted, none of the candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, the election will become a runoff between the two leading contenders.

Among the leading contenders are Abdullah Abdullah, who was Karzai's chief rival in the last election, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Finance Minister Zalmai Rassoul.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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