A wave of violence across Afghanistan killed 10 people, including a French commando, with militants using everything from roadside bombs to explosives hidden in a clock to subvert landmark elections Sunday, officials said, but there were no immediate signs of a spectacular attack feared from Taliban militants who vowed to disrupt the vote.
However, a handful of polling centers were closed temporarily because of gunfire and others opened late due to security fears, chief electoral officer Peter Erben said.
A French special forces soldier was killed and another seriously wounded when their vehicle struck a mine in southern Afghanistan, French officials said. Two rockets hit a U.N. warehouse in the Afghan capital, wounding a local staff member, while fierce fighting erupted in eastern Afghanistan, leaving three militants and two policemen dead and two U.S. troops wounded, officials said.
But Sunday was mostly about voting and making a difference. Officials predicted a massive turnout despite a Taliban call for a boycott.
"We are making history," President Hamid Karzai said as he cast his ballot. "It's the day of self-determination for the Afghan people. After 30 years of wars, interventions, occupations and misery, today Afghanistan is moving forward, making an economy, making political institutions."
Some 12.4 million Afghans were registered to vote for the national legislature and provincial assemblies at more than 6,000 polling stations, guarded by some 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops.
"Today is a magnificent day for Afghanistan," said Ali Safar, 62, standing in line to vote in Kabul. "We want dignity, we want stability and peace. Thirty years of war and poverty is enough."
Afghans clutching voter identification cards filed into schools with lessons still scrawled on blackboards, or stepped over piles of shoes to cast their ballots in mosques. In remote areas, polling stations were set up in tents.
With nearly three-quarters of the populace illiterate, voting was slow as people waded through ballots up to seven pages long to find pictures of candidates or symbols that represent them. Some voters spent as much as 10 minutes behind cardboard screens marking ballots, some the size of posters.