KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A roadside bomb killed 11 people in Afghanistan, including four election monitors, and the Taliban cut off the fingers of 11 people to punish them for voting in this weekend’s presidential runoff, officials said Sunday.
The Taliban had warned people not to participate in Saturday’s vote to choose a successor to President Hamid Karzai. The two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, have vowed to improve ties with the West and sign a long-delayed security pact allowing nearly 10,000 U.S. troops to remain in the country for two more years.
Sediq Azizi, spokesman for the provincial governor in the northern Samangan province, said a minibus hit an improvised explosive device Saturday night, with the blast killing six women, one child and four men in the provincial capital Aybak.
Azizi said four of the victims were employees of the country’s election commission, which organized Saturday’s vote. It was not immediately clear if they were the target of the explosion.
In a separate incident, the Taliban cut off the fingers of 11 civilians on Saturday in western Herat province to punish them for voting, police spokesman Raoud Ahamdi said.
Afghans braved threats of violence and searing heat Saturday to vote in the presidential runoff, which likely will mark the country’s first peaceful transfer of authority, an important step toward democracy as foreign combat troops leave.
Abdullah, who emerged as the front-runner with 45 percent of the vote in the first round, faced Ahmadzai, an ex-World Bank official. Neither garnered the majority needed to win outright, but previous candidates and their supporters have since offered endorsements to each, making the final outcome unpredictable.
Independent Election Commission Chairman Ahmad Yousuf Nouristani said initial estimates showed that more than 7 million Afghans voted Saturday, which would be equivalent to the first round on April 5. That would be a turnout of about 60 percent of the country’s 12 million eligible voters.
Official preliminary results were to be announced on July 2, with final results released on July 22. Nouristani said his commission would release partial results in the coming weeks.