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Afghans go to polls despite Taliban attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan — Despite Taliban rocket strikes and bombings, Afghans voted for a new parliament, the first election since a fraud-marred presidential ballot last year cast doubt on the legitimacy of the embattled government.

As officials tally votes over the next few days, the real test begins: Afghans will have to decide whether to accept the results as legitimate despite a modest turnout and early evidence of fraud.

The Taliban had pledged to disrupt the vote and launched attacks starting with a rocket fired into the capital before dawn Saturday. The insurgent group followed with a series of morning rocket strikes that hit major cities just as people were going to the polls — or weighing whether to risk it.

At least 11 civilians and three police officers were killed, according to the Interior Ministry. The governor of Kandahar province survived a bombing as he drove between voting sites. In all, there were 33 bomb explosions and 63 rocket attacks, said Interior Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi. He said 27 Taliban were killed Saturday.

Yet there appeared to be less violence than during the last election, when more than 30 civilians were killed and a group of insurgents attacked Kabul. Afghan security officials dismissed the attacks as "insignificant" and said they did not hamper voting, adding that 92 percent of polling stations were open Saturday.

"There are no reports of major incidents," Afghan election commission chairman Fazel Ahmad Manawi told reporters.

Many of those who voted said they were determined to be heard over the Taliban.

At a mosque in eastern Kabul, a former schoolteacher said she had traveled from her home on the outskirts of the city the night before because voting was safer in the city center.

"Even though I heard about those rocket attacks, I wanted to vote," said Aziza, 48, who gave only her first name. "Today is a historic day for Afghan people and it is very important for the restoration of democracy."

Observers across the country reported fewer voters than a year ago, even though the number of sites had been cut to help authorities provide better security.

The election commission has yet to provide an overall turnout figure but said late Saturday that 3.6 million people cast ballots at 86 percent of polling stations that had reported figures so far. Nearly 6 million ballots were cast in the presidential vote last year, out of 17 million registered voters.

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