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1/3/05 - DEMOCRATIC PROGRESS IN 2004 - 2005-01-03

President George W. Bush says both Afghanistan and Iraq took major steps forward during 2004:

"This year brought the first presidential election in the five-thousand-year history of Afghanistan. And the government of President Hamid Karzai is a steadfast ally in the war on terror. In Iraq, a people that endured decades of oppression are also preparing to choose their own leaders. Next month, Iraqis will go to the polls and express their will in free elections."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says Afghans "have left a hard and dark past behind us and we are opening a new chapter in our history." Mr. Karzai promised to crack down on the illegal drug trade, reduce poverty and corruption, and disarm regional militias. In 2005, Afghans will take another major step in charting their future when they vote in parliamentary and local government elections.

In Iraq, more than thirteen-million Iraqis are registered to vote in elections scheduled for January 30th. Some seven-thousand candidates from more than two-hundred-forty political parties are campaigning for two-hundred-seventy-five seats in Iraq's national assembly. The assembly will select government officials and draft a constitution.

Mr. Bush says that because U.S.-led coalitions liberated Iraq and Afghanistan, more than fifty-million people are now free:

"The world is more peaceful as liberty takes hold. Free societies don't fight each other. And so we'll work to continue to send a message to reformers around the world that America stands strong in our belief that freedom is universal, and that we hope at some point in time, everybody is free."

"Free societies do not export terror," said Mr. Bush. "Free governments respect the aspirations of their citizens and serve their hopes for a better life. Free nations are peaceful nations. And free nations in the heart of the Middle East will show what is possible to others who want to live in a free society."