Afghans head to the polls on Saturday to vote in a second-round presidential election under the threat of Taliban attack, as US-led combat troops wind down a 13-year war that has failed to defeat the insurgents. The run-off election will decide whether former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah or ex-World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani leads the country into a new era with declining international military and civilian assistance. President Hamid Karzai is due to step down after ruling the country since 2001, when a US-led offensive ousted the austere Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda militants behind the 9/11 attacks. Afghan officials and international allies are hoping for a repeat of the successful first-round vote in April, when the insurgents failed to launch a single high-profile attack and voter turnout was more than 50 percent.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was time to banish sexual violence "to the dark ages" as an international conference on rape as a weapon of war wrapped up in London. The four-day gathering of 123 countries, co-hosted by Hollywood star Angelina Jolie, has sought to break the taboo of wartime rape and tackle a culture of impunity that experts warn is only creating more victims. "It's time to ban sexual violence to the dark ages and history books where it belongs," Kerry said at the closing press conference alongside Jolie and her co-host, British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "We have all come together based on a common desire to end war zone sexual violence, and we have mapped out every area of action we need to take," the 39-year-old said.