Insurgents worked to disrupt Afghanistan's presidential election Saturday, with a series of blasts reported across the country as voters headed to the polls and troops flooded the streets of Kabul.
The vote marks the culmination of a bloody election campaign that is seen as a two-horse race between the President, Mr. Ashraf Ghani, and his bitter rival, Mr. Abdullah Abdullah, the country's chief executive.
The Taliban, who unleashed a string of bombings during the two-month campaign, in recent days, issued repeated warnings they intend to attack polling centres. At least 15 people were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar when a bomb went off at a polling station about two hours after voting began, a hospital director said, and officials across the country reported several small explosions at other sites.
'Peace is the first desire of our people,' Mr. Ghani said after casting his vote at a high school in Kabul. 'Our roadmap (for peace) is ready, I want the people to give us permission and legitimacy so that we pursue peace.'
Wary authorities placed an uneasy Kabul under partial lock down, flooding streets with troops and banning trucks from entering the city in an effort to stop would-be suicide bombers. One voter at a polling station in a Kabul high school said it was important to cast a ballot.
'I know there are security threats but bombs and attacks have become part of our everyday lives,' 55-year-old Mohiuddin, who only gave one name, said.
'I am not afraid, we have to vote if we want to bring changes to our lives.'
The capital's traffic, often gridlocked, dropped to a trickle as schools and offices closed for the day and as many people chose to stay off the roads.
Some 9.6 million Afghans are registered to vote, but many have lost any hope that after 18 years of war any leader can unify the country and improve basic living conditions, boost the stagnating economy or bolster security.
Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani both claimed victory in the 2014 election -- a vote so tainted by fraud and violence that it led to a constitutional crisis and forced then-US president, Mr. Barack Obama, to push for a compromise that saw Mr. Abdullah awarded the subordinate role.