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Voting begins in Pakistan general elections amid deadly bombings, doubts

Voting began on Thursday in Pakistan’s general elections following a series of deadly bombings amid doubts that the exercise would stabilise the chaotic republic.

Pakistan, with a population of more than 240 million, is holding elections for only a third transition between civilian governments in several decades.

The country’s election panel said that voting started at 8:00 a.m. (0300 GMT) and will continue until 5:00 p.m.

The panel added that more than 128 million people are eligible to vote, making it one of the largest democratic exercises in the world.

But restrictions on parties thought hostile to the military, internet shutdowns, deadly violence and media blackouts in the run-up to

the vote may make the elections less inclusive and credible.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is a front-runner to lead the country for a record fourth time, according to public opinion surveys ahead of the polls.

The main opposition leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, remained in jail after back-to-back convictions on graft and moral charges, days ahead of the election, while his party is not on the ballot.

Security forces are on high alert for the election, with around 600,000 personnel deployed to guard the voting, Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz said.

At least 137,000 troops have been deployed, he added.

On the eve of the vote, separate bombings hours apart from each other targeted campaign offices in south-western Pakistan, killing at least 26 people, officials said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the latest bombings.

Violence by militants also surged in Pakistan in recent months ahead of the vote, as more than half of around 90,000 polling stations became

prone to violence, the election panel said.

(dpa/NAN)

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