Supporters of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, wave the party's flag from the window of a car as they celebrate in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Supporters of Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, wave the party's flag from the window of a car as they celebrate in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, July 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Quetta/Peshawar, Pakistan — A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people near a polling centre as Pakistanis voted on Wednesday in a knife-edge election pitting cricket hero Imran Khan against the party of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack that hospital officials said killed 29 people and wounded 35 in the western city of Quetta.

Security sources said the bomber drove his motorcycle into a police vehicle.

About 106-million people are registered to vote.

Sharif’s party on Wednesday called for voting to be extended by an hour, saying people were still lining up late in the afternoon and could be turned away without casting ballots.

Local TV channels said officials had denied the request. About 371,000 soldiers have been stationed at polling stations across the country, nearly five times the number deployed at the last election in 2013.

Members of the bomb disposal unit survey the site after a suicide blast in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Members of the bomb disposal unit survey the site after a suicide blast in Quetta, Pakistan, July 25 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Earlier in July, a suicide bomber killed 149 people at an election rally in the town of Mastung in Baluchistan province, an attack also claimed by Islamic State militants.

According to the latest opinion polls, neither Khan nor Sharif are likely to win a clear majority. Khan has emerged as a slight favourite, but the divisive race is likely to come down to Punjab, the most populous province, where Sharif’s party has clung to its lead in recent surveys.

The election has been plagued by allegations that the powerful armed forces have been trying to tilt the race in Khan’s favour after falling out with the outgoing governing party of Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges in July.

"Imran Khan is the only hope to change destiny of our country. We are here to support him in his fight against corruption," said Tufail Aziz, 31, after casting his ballot in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Reuters