Ten dead as Afghans vote in parliamentary election
Turnout low after campaign of violence and call for boycott by Taliban
At least 10 Afghans were killed as voters braved Taliban rockets, assaults on polling stations and death threats to vote in the country's parliamentary elections.
Early indications suggested turnout was low in the second parliamentary vote since the Taliban regime was ousted.
The poll is seen as a yardstick of difficult security conditions in the country as London and Washington try to demonstrate progress in the nine-year-long campaign.
The Taliban had called for a national boycott and waged an intimidation campaign in several southern provinces. The Afghan police and military said none of the day's attacks had been significant and only 8 per cent of polling sites had been closed.
Observers at several polling stations in Kabul, Kandahar and Kunduz said voting was slow, however. Fears of fraud and disenchantment with a parliament seen as ineffective and out of touch had also kept people at home, voters said.
Abdul Nasir, a 26-year-old student in Lashkar Gah, said voters in Helmand had been frequently threatened.
He said: "I came anyway though -- we need honest MPs in parliament rather than the lot we have now."
In the day's worst attack, the Taliban killed one Afghan soldier and six pro-government militiamen in a raid on an outpost next to a polling station in Baghlan province.
In last year's presidential poll Hamid Karzai was re-elected amid widespread fraud and the day of the election proved the most violent of 2009. Turnout then was only around a third of voters.
The elections have been keenly contested with more than 2,500 candidates standing for 249 seats. Walls and billboards have been wallpapered with posters for new candidates including an Olympic female sprinter, a chat-show host and a television comedian.
Bawar Hotak, a 32-year-old bodybuilding, shot-put and wrestling champion standing in Kabul, said voters wanted jobs, peace and education. He said: "We all voted in the first election. We were promised there would be solutions, but we haven't seen anything. No one reached out to us."
The election is instead expected to consolidate power among Mr Karzai's supporters and wealthy strongmen.
Campaigners and diplomats said voting had become a lucrative market for entrepreneurial election officials.
One campaign worker in Parwan, north of Kabul, said he had been telephoned by an official and offered fake votes for $20 (€15.30) each.
He said: "They said we could for example send 10 people to a polling station, but they would give us 20 ballot papers. Then they could add another 20 votes when they tallied the votes at the end."