Afghanistan hailed another successful election after polls closed on Saturday with millions of voters turning out to choose a new president.
"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."
Despite being mainly peaceful, polling day saw at least 150 minor attacks, according to the interior ministry. The Taliban had threatened that they would launch "non-stop" assaults during the vote.
Officials said more than seven million people voted - a higher than expected turnout. This equates to 52 per cent of the estimated electorate of 13.5 million voters.
A series of rockets hit areas in the Khost province near the Pakistani border, killing at least five civilians. In the eastern province of Logar, the Taliban fired a rocket at a polling station, reportedly killing two voters. Rockets also exploded near Kabul airport with no reported casualties.
Twelve million voters were eligible to cast ballots at 6,365 polling centers across the country. While an official turnout was not given, it was reported that attendance was so high that some 333 voting centers ran out of ballot papers.
After casting his ballot, President Hamid Karzai told reporters: "Today Afghanistan takes a step towards stability, development and peace. Come out and determine your destiny."
The election will decide whether Afghanistan's former foreign minister, 53-year-old Abdullah Abdullah, or 64-year-old Ashraf Ghani, who served as an official with the World Bank, will lead the country.
In the election's first round on April 5, both candidates fell short of the 50 percent needed to win outright and avoid a run-off. Abdullah secured 45 percent of the April vote compared to Ghani's 31 percent.
The election has also been marked by accusations of fraud from both candidates and many fear a close outcome could drag Afghanistan into a protracted stand-off over the vote.
Tough transition ahead
Whoever wins the election will face a daunting set of challenges. Afghanistan's institutions creak under the strain of rampant corruption, and security remains fragile in the face of a still virulent Taliban insurgency.
The US and NATO-led international coalition are preparing to withdraw their combat troops by the end of 2014. A major unresolved issue is the conclusion of a Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) between Kabul and Washington, which would govern an almost 10,000-strong US troop presence after the end of major combat operations.
Both Abdullah and Ghani have promised to sign the BSA.
Due to Afghanistan's poor infrastructure and difficult geography it will take more than a month to collect and count the ballots. Preliminary results are expected on July 2 with final results scheduled to be announced on July 22.
hc/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)