Vote counting starts in Afghanistan
With each translucent plastic ballot box holding a small but vital contribution to the fledgling democracy, Afghanistan began counting votes from the weekend's key parliamentary election.
Around six million Afghans took part Sunday in the first elections of their kind for a generation, to choose the lower house of the new national assembly and provincial councils around the country.
Early estimates by electoral officials said the turnout, at just over 50 percent, was well below that in the historic October 2004 presidential election won by Hamid Karzai, when 67 percent voted.
But world leaders including US President George W. Bush have hailed the vote as a success and praised those who did turn out for braving threats of violence by the ousted Taliban regime.
Camels, donkeys and trucks collected more than 120,000 sealed ballot boxes from polling stations across the country Monday and took them to the country's 32 official counting centres.
"The centres open for operations at 6:00 am (0130 GMT) on Tuesday," said Bronwyn Curran, spokeswoman for the joint United Nations-Afghan body in charge of the vote.
"The intake of ballots is still going on and in some parts it will take a few days. They don't need 100 percent intake to start counting but they need the majority," she added.
At the counting centre in Kabul, dozens of trucks lined up in the sun on Monday to unload the boxes, monitored by election observers and security forces.
Initial results are not expected for more than two weeks, with electoral officials due to give intermittent updates.
"This count is then subject to a short complaints period and these complaints must be adjudicated," said electoral chief Peter Erben.
"Dependent on the number of complaints we do hope that we can have a final certified result for all 34 provinces by the 22nd of October."
After that Afghanistan faces an even tougher task -- forming a stable government from new members of parliament including warlords, former communists and Taliban rebels.
Militants from the Taliban, toppled by US forces and Afghan militias in late 2001, warned voters to stay away from the vote and nine people died in violence on polling day. But they failed to carry out any major attacks.
One truck transporting ballot boxes in the eastern province of Nangarhar was badly damaged by a roadside bomb late Sunday but no one was injured and the votes were not affected.
The elections were for 249 seats in the Wolesi Jirga, or parliament, including 68 for women, and 420 seats on provincial councils.