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U.S. Welcomes Afghan Election Decision As Milestone

Hamid Karzai is favored to win the presidential vote. (file photo) 10 July 2004 -- The U.S. State Department and Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai are welcoming the decision by Afghan election officials to set a date for their first direct presidential election, 9 October, with parliamentary elections to follow in the spring..

The presidential poll will be Afghans' first popular vote since the fall of the Taliban -- and the announcement has been welcomed by the United States as a milestone towards democracy. The announcement was also welcomed by one of Karzai's potential rivals for the presidency, Ahmed Shah Ahmadzai.

And the United States said it supports Afghanistan's decision to split the presidential poll and the parliamentary elections set for spring.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday in Washington: "The United States welcomes this decision. We think that the elections will mark another major step in Afghanistan's transition to a constitutional representative government and then constitute another milestone. We join the Afghan government in fully supporting the electoral body's decision and we'll do our part to assist these historic elections."
The Taliban and allied militants have vowed to disrupt the polls, and hundreds have died in militant attacks this year.

Both presidential and legislative elections were originally scheduled for June. However, logistical problems and ongoing violence twice forced a delay.

The Afghan government says it's necessary to postpone parliamentary elections until April for the same reasons. They say this will allow more time for voter registration, the disarming of militia and the strengthening of Afghan security forces. Still, the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body called on the international community to step up security assistance.

Boucher said the United States is providing funds and expertise as well as security for the polls. And he said the United States hopes NATO will meet Karzai's request for more troops to ensure security. "I think NATO is moving as quickly as it can and will move to try to meet [Chairman] Karzai's requirements," he said.

The Taliban and allied militants have vowed to disrupt the polls. Hundreds have died in militant attacks this year and the 20,000-strong U.S.-led military force pursuing the Taliban and their allies has warned of more violence ahead of the polls.

But Boucher said that the violence is not deterring Afghans from registering to vote. "Despite the threats and attacks by the Taliban, the Afghan people have a strong desire to exercise their democratic rights and they are registering in large numbers for the elections," he said.

He said most recent numbers showed 6 million Afghans -- more than half of an estimated 10 million eligible voters -- have registered for the elections and that 39 percent of them are women.

(compiled from wire reports)