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10/15/04 - AFGHANISTAN VOTES - 2004-10-15

Millions of Afghan men and women voted for president in what many are calling a historic election. Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iran were also able to participate in the voting. Afghanistan's transitional president Hamid Karzai called the election "a day of celebration for the Afghan people":

"This was really a victory of the Afghan people over terrorism and it proved that, given a chance, the Afghan nation can prove the best.”

Robert Barry, a former U.S. ambassador, is head of the election-monitoring team sent to Afghanistan by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He said some voting irregularities have been reported, but none that would nullify the election. "October 9th was a historic day in Afghanistan," said Ambassador Barry, "and the millions who came to the polls clearly wanted to turn from the rule of the gun to the rule of the law." United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan called the election "a tribute to the determination" of the Afghan people.

In Kandahar, once the stronghold of the Taleban, long lines formed at polling places. "We are just so happy to be voting and to be choosing the president who will lead Afghanistan in the future," one Afghan woman told a British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent. Another voter said, "a few years ago every group was coming to power by killing others, by bloodshed. Now after this election there will be a legal transfer of power."

Yunus Qanuni, one of the leading challengers to transitional president Karzai, says he will "respect the will of millions of Afghans" and abide by the election results. "We want unity in this election, not a boycott," he said.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the "election is the latest milestone on the Afghan people's road to democratic government and vibrant civil society." In 2005, Afghans will take another step when they vote for members of parliament and local governments.