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An Afghan Hero's Welcome

Nekpa (center, in white) is swallowed up by the crowd at Ghazi Stadium (click to enlarge)
Nekpa (center, in white) is swallowed up by the crowd at Ghazi Stadium (click to enlarge)
Afghanistan's first-ever Olympic medal winner, Rohullah Nekpa, was welcomed home by a jubilant crowd of thousands in Kabul today.

The Taekwondo hero was cheered throughout his brief speech, in which he repeatedly told his countrymen, "Long Live Afghanistan!" Speaking to the dancing and cheering crowd, Nekpa dedicated his victory to his beleaguered nation. "That victory in the 2008 Olympic Games [in Beijing] is indeed a great victory by the Afghan nation," Nekpa said as copies of his photo were dropped from helicopters.

Nekpa, 21, won his bronze medal in the Taekwondo under-58 kilogram category after beating rivals from Germany and England, as well as Spanish world champion Juan Antonio Ramos.

"Afghanistan's participation in the Beijing Olympic Games was a great victory and source of pride for Afghanistan, and Rohullah Nekpa -- by winning this medal for his nation -- made this pride even greater," Second Vice President Karim Khalili, who was among several Afghan government members in attendance, told the crowd at Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban once so brutally executed their enemies.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended Afghanistan after the Taliban denied women a chance to participate in sports events. Afghanistan missed the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney as a result, but that suspension was lifted in 2002. Afghanistan sent two female athletes, for the first time in its history, to the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

President Hamid Karzai announced the awarding of a house to Nekpa, while a charitable foundation awarded him $5,000 and a telecommunications company an automobile.

-- Omid Marzban

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