Hard-line cleric, speaker vote in Pakistan

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A bombing outside a polling station in the city of Quetta in western Pakistan killed at least 30 people, according to officials, as voting began in a pivotal national election.

The bomber targeted a senior police officer and his guards when he came to examine the security arrangements at the polling station.

Voting began at 8 am (local time), during which most of Pakistan's almost 106 million people came out to cast their votes.

Another person was killed in firing outside a Mirpurkhas polling station in NA-219 Dighri area, the report said.

The election has largely boiled down to a contest between former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Results will start trickling in within hours, and the likely victor should be known by around 2:00am on Thursday.

Sharif's PML-N has sought to turn the vote into a referendum on Pakistan's democracy and campaigned to protect the "sanctity of the vote".

In Pakistan's deeply tribal and religiously conservative North Waziristan, where Taliban insurgents have found safe havens, women voted for the first time on Wednesday, said Mohamad Ayaz Khan, a government administrator.

Interestingly, PML-N president Shehbaz Sharif is much behind his competitors in the said constituency.

An injured Pakistani man is brought to a hospital in Quetta, July 13, 2018, following a bomb blast at an election rally.

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Pakistan's military deployed 350,000 troops countrywide at polling stations.

Khan is campaigning on populist promises to build a "New Pakistan", vowing to eradicate corruption, clean up the environment and construct an "Islamic welfare" state.

Security fears did not appear to deter some voters in the eastern city of Lahore a day before the election. "In the past, our votes were cast [on our behalf]".

"We made history today", said Khan. The run up to the elections have seen a massive crackdown on the media and allegations that the military has secretly backed the campaign of Khan while targeting his political opponents.

As many as 12,570 candidates are contesting for 272 national and 577 provincial assembly seats in Pakistan's 11th general election.

Pakistanis are voting to choose a new government in the second democratic transition of power in the nation's 70-year history amid accusations of manipulation by the powerful army and concerns over the participation of Islamic hardliners in large numbers.

Earlier election violence saw a suicide bomber in Balochistan kill 150 people - including one of Mr Khan's party candidates Ikramullah Gandapur.

PML-N's campaign was reinvigorated by the return to Pakistan of Nawaz Sharif, 68, who was earlier this month convicted and sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison over the purchase of upscale London apartments using offshore companies in the mid 1990s. The leading among them are Mumbai-terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led banned Jamat-ud Dawa's candidates who are fighting with an aim to make Pakistan a "citadel of Islam".

Under Pakistani law, separate seats are reserved for women and non-Muslim minorities, which comprise 4 percent of the population.

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