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11/20/04 - ARMITAGE ON AFGHANISTAN  - 2004-11-22

In December, Hamid Karzai will be inaugurated as Afghanistan's first democratically elected president. Earlier this month, the United Nations-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Board announced that Mr. Karzai had won the election with fifty-five percent of the eight-million ballots cast. More than forty-percent of the voters were Afghan women.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says that all Afghans have much to be proud of and much to look forward to:

"The election is the latest milestone on the Afghan people's road to democratic government and a vibrant civil society. In late spring, they'll take another major step when they return to the polls to select members of the parliament and local governments."

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says that the U.S. will continue to assist efforts to democratize the country:

"The only possible change that might occur in the next four years of President George W. Bush is to accelerate even further our assistance and support for Afghanistan."

Among the big losers in Afghanistan are the remnants of the Taleban, the Islamic extremists who had made the country a safe haven for al-Qaida terrorists. Before the voting, Yusuf Pashtun, governor of Kandahar province, said, "If the election goes without a major attack, a phase of the struggle will be over."

There was no major attack. According to news reports, more than a dozen Afghans were killed in assaults on election day, but the election took place as scheduled. "A defeat definitely" for the Taleban, said Hajji Shir Muhammad, governor of Helmand province. The Taleban, he says, "told all the world, we will not let the election happen, but they failed."

Deputy Secretary of State Armitage says, "The entire United States supports what is going on in Afghanistan and will continue to do so."