Official: Pakistan polls close, ‘huge’ turnout in Punjab

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Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. (1300 GMT) in Pakistan’s historic general elections, which saw a “huge” turnout in the largest province of Punjab, an election commission official announced.

“The election commission of Pakistan was successful in conducting the elections. We have a huge turnout in Punjab,” commission secretary Ishtiaq Ahmed told a news conference, confirming that polling stations would close at 6 p.m.

An election commission spokesman told AFP earlier that turnout was 30 percent at midday and was expected to reach 60 percent by the end of the day, which according to official statistics would make it the highest since 1977.

The death toll from a blast at the offices of a political party in the Pakistani city of Karachi climbed to eleven as Pakistanis casted their votes, according to hospital sources.

About 35 people were wounded in the attack at an office of the Awami National Party (ANP).

The target of the attack, Amanullah Mehsud, escaped unhurt, senior police official Mazhar Nawaz told AFP. Another police official, Tahir Naveed, confirmed the attack.

Following the blast, a bomb attack targeting female voters in Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar wounded eight people according to police.

"The bomb was planted on a motorcycle. Several people including police have been injured. The motorcycle was parked outside a women's polling station," Shafiullah Khan, a senior police officer, told AFP.

Saturday’s election marks the first democratic transition of power in the nuclear-armed state which has been governed by the military for half its history.

Pakistani voters went to the polls Saturday, braving Taliban threats to cast their ballots in an election marking a historic democratic transition for the nuclear-armed state.

Queues began to form before polling stations opened at 8 a.m. (0300 GMT). More than 100 people including women and the elderly waited patiently to vote at one school building on the outskirts of Islamabad.

More than 86 million people are eligible to vote for the 342-member national assembly and four provincial assemblies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

The Taliban, who consider democracy un-Islamic, have vowed to disrupt the vote with suicide bombings and have launched attacks against the main secular parties, killing more than 120 people in the run-up to the vote.

The poll marks the first time that an elected civilian administration has completed a full term and handed power to another through the ballot box in a country where there have been three military coups and four military rulers.

The front-runner is ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, head of the center-right Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) but much of the campaign has been electrified by cricket star Imran Khan with promises of reform and an end to corruption.

The charismatic 60-year-old leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) tapped into a last-minute surge of support after fracturing his spine when he fell from a stage at a campaign rally on Tuesday.

Although he is expected to make a full recovery, he is flat on his back in hospital and aides say he cannot even vote on Saturday.

The outgoing center-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has run a lackluster and rudderless campaign, with its chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, too young to run and largely hidden from public view due to Taliban threats.

In the district of Mardan, another four people were injured in a bomb blast close to a polling station. Police described it as a "low intensity timed-device".

But despite the attacks and threats of suicide bombings from the Taliban, an AFP reporter saw queues of enthusiastic people, charged up and determined to vote.

In Badhaber, a militant stronghold on the edge of Peshawar that has been repeatedly bombed, more than 300 people lined up at a polling station to wait to cast their votes, an AFP reporter said.

In Peshawar, hundreds of people queued up, some of them in wheelchairs, to cast their votes.

“We have already spent a lot of time being scared of terror threats. Today, we have to take a decision and bury this state of fear once and for all,” said shopkeeper Suhail Ahmad in Peshawar.

“We have to vote for peace and the future of Pakistan. People must get out of their houses and cast their votes,” he added.

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