KABUL, Afghanistan – Afghans went to the polls Sunday to elect a new legislature, hoping to bolster a fragile democracy after a quarter-century of war and sideline the Taliban (search) militants who fought to undermine the vote.
"Today is a magnificent day for Afghanistan," said Ali Safar, 62, who was standing in line to vote in the capital, Kabul (search). "We want dignity, we want stability and peace. Thirty years of war and poverty is enough."
Some 12.4 million Afghans were registered to vote at more than 6,000 polling stations, guarded by some 100,000 Afghan police and soldiers and 30,000 foreign troops.
The Taliban called for a boycott of the elections, but said they would not attack civilians heading to the polls. A wave of assaults in the 48 hours leading up to the vote left nine militants and three policemen dead.
Security forces said they thwarted four rebel bombings, including an attempt to blow up a massive dam.
The vote was seen as the last formal step toward democracy on a path set out after a U.S.-led force drove the Taliban from power in 2001, when they refused to hand over Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden (search) following the Sept. 11 attacks.
Presidential elections last October saw Hamid Karzai affirmed as the nation's leader.
Many people hoped the legislative polls would marginalize the insurgents and end a spiral of violence that started in 1979 when Soviet troops invaded, before a devastating civil war and the oppressive rule of the hard-line Taliban.
Top U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said militants had failed to disrupt preparations for the polls despite violence during the six months leading up to the vote that killed 1,200 people, including seven candidates and four election workers.
"We are very confident that those extremists will also fail to disrupt and derail voting day," Arnault said.
A U.S. military spokesman, Col. James Yonts, predicted "a massive number" of voters would turn out, telling The Associated Press that "this election will send a powerful message to the Taliban that their influence is waning."