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Pakistan general election: Vote counting begins as nine killed in attacks

Nine people died in a spate of attacks in Pakistan before voting closed on election day, as mobile phone services were also shut down.

Thousands of troops were deployed across the country, while borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed in a bid to ensure safety at the polls.

But despite the heightened security, nine people, including two children, were killed in bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootings.

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Authorities said five police officers were killed in an explosion and shooting in the Kulachi area of Dera Ismail Khan district in the northwest.

Officials said the two children died in a blast outside a women's polling station in the southwestern province of Balochistan.

Gunmen also killed a security officer in the Tank area of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region.

The violence comes a day after two explosions near electoral candidates' offices in Baluchistan killed at least 26.

Phone service blackout 'a blunt attack'

In a statement, caretaker interior minister Gohar Ejaz said that "despite a few isolated incidents, the overall situation remained under control, demonstrating the effectiveness of our security measures".

The interior ministry also said that mobile phone services, which were controversially shut off during voting, were being partially resumed after polls closed at around 5pm (12pm in the UK).

A day after telling Sky News' Cordelia Lynch that he had "no intention" of shutting them down, caretaker prime minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar's government cut mobile phone services across Pakistan on Thursday morning, citing "recent incidents of terrorism".

Pakistan Peoples Party's Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the 35-year-old son of assassinated former premier Benazir Bhutto, called for its "immediate restoration", while human rights group Amnesty International named it "a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly".

Military 'want Sharif as PM'

Tensions have been high in the country ahead of voting, with some claiming the military is pulling the strings in this election - with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif being their favoured candidate.

Anwaar ul Haq Kakar dismissed the claims and told Sky News: "They [the military] have a view on everything, but they are not directly influencing the democratic process and the political process of this country."

Mr Sharif, who is widely expected to be the next prime minister, told reporters after casting his ballot in Lahore: "Don't talk about a coalition government.

"It is very important for a government to get a clear majority... It should not be relying on others."

Jailed Khan still most popular politician

Tensions are also high after ex-cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was jailed again last week.

The former prime minister, who was ousted in 2022, remains the most popular politician in the country according to polls.

But at the start of February, he was handed multiple prison sentences over a series of charges, with corruption, leaking state secrets, and breaking the country's marriage laws among them, and was banned from taking part in the vote.

His party has also claimed its candidates have been denied a fair chance at campaigning in the run-up to the vote.