Afghans vote in run-off election despite Taliban threats

KABUL- Afghans defied Taliban threats by voting Saturday in a second-round presidential election, as US-led combat troops wind down a 13-year war that has failed to defeat the insurgents.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for two rockets that exploded near Kabul airport as polls opened, but Afghan and NATO officials said there were no casualties.

The run-off election will decide whether former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani leads the country into a new era of declining international military and civilian assistance.

President Hamid Karzai is due to step down after ruling the country since 2001, when a US-led offensive ousted the austere Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks.

“We are very proud to be choosing our favourite candidate,” Karzai said after voting. “Today Afghanistan goes from a transition period toward long-lasting peace and stability.”

Afghan officials and international allies are hoping for a repeat of the first-round vote in April, when the insurgents failed to launch a single high-profile attack and voter turnout was more than 50 percent.

But the stakes are high with the Taliban issuing specific threats to target polling stations and widespread fears that electoral fraud could produce a contested result.