At least 11 people have died and 30 others have been injured after an explosion in Karachi as Pakistan goes to the polls in the first democratic transition of power in the country's history.
The landmark election has been marred by violence across the country, killing some 130 people before Saturday's bomb, which targeted the headquarters of one of the country's three key secular liberal parties, the Awami National Party (ANP). The Karachi-based Muttahida Quami Movement and the Pakistan People's Party's offices are also believed to be key targets for the militants.
It has been reported that the Pakistani Taliban had warned voters to stay away from polling stations on Election Day to avoid attacks, with their leader Hakimullah Mehsud claiming that democracy is incompatible with Islam.
The Awami National Party's Karachi offices were attacked ahead of polling day in the country
In anticipation of violence, Pakistan had closed its borders to Afghanistan and Iran and deployed more than half a million police officers and soldiers to maintain order at polling stations. According to the BBC, 20,000 polling stations have been marked as at risk to attack on Saturday.
The close-fought contest, in which Pakistan will for the first time elect 272 members of a 342-seat National Assembly, pits former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) against outgoing president Ali Asif Zardari (PPP) and fast-rising 60-year-old former cricketer Imran Khan, leader of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party.
The election marks the first time in Pakistan's 65-year history that a civilian government has completed its full term and handed over power in democratic elections. Previous governments have been toppled by military coups or sacked by presidents allied with the powerful army.
Sharif, who was ousted in a military coup lead by General Pervez Musharraf in 1999, is tipped to return to office, while no party is expected to receive an outright majority. Khan is considered a dark horse candidate, pinning his hopes on a wave of political fervour from the country's young voters - two thirds of the 86 million registered voters are below 35.
Khan has spent the final stretch of the election in hospital after falling 15 feet from a forklift at an election rally in Lahore on Wednesday.
Crowds gather to watch Khan's emotional address from hospital on Thursday
The ex-Pakistan Test cricketer sustained broken ribs and vertebrae in his back, but was able to give an address propped up in his hospital bed later in the week. Thousands of supporters gathered in the streets to watch Khan urge his party on.
“God has given us a chance. Don't let it slip away,” Khan said. “We must break the status quo.”
Violence elsewhere in the country has seen the son of one election hopeful, former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, abducted in his home district, with smaller bombings and clashes affecting some polling areas in the country.
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