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10/14/04 - A VICTORY FOR AFGHANISTAN  - 2004-10-15

History has been made in Afghanistan as millions of Afghans voted for president. Voting hours were extended at some polling stations to accommodate the heavy turnout. The turnout of women was also very heavy.

"In the whole history of Afghanistan, this is the first time we come and choose our leader in [a] democratic process and [in a] free condition," said Muhammad Amin Aslama, a member of Afghanistan's Tajik minority. He says he feels "very proud and...very happy."

There were reports of some irregularities. Allegedly, there were cases where the ink used to mark voters' thumbs so they could not cast another ballot, could be easily rubbed off. But U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says that United Nations and Afghan officials report that the balloting problems did not affect the outcome of the election:

"I think the results will stand. Obviously there are technical difficulties sometimes even in the most mature democracies when it comes to elections. And the people have the right to challenge and they should challenge."

This election is the latest milestone on the Afghan people's road to democracy. Next year, Afghans will take another major step in charting their future when they vote in parliamentary and local government elections.

The voters included refugees in camps outside Afghanistan. Haji Sheralam, the first refugee to vote at a station near Peshawar, Pakistan, told the Associated Press wire service, "It's an end to the rule of the gun in Afghanistan.... We nearly lost hope," said Mr. Sheralam, "but this is a historic day." Mangawar Khakaar, a soldier in the Afghan national army, told The New York Times newspaper, "Everyone has sacrificed and now it is worth it because we can vote for our own freedom."

The U.S. and its friends and allies will continue to support the people of Afghanistan as they work toward a brighter future.