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August 24, 09

NEWS / Obama Praises Courage and Dignity of Afghan Voters

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — While results are not yet known in Afghanistan’s presidential and provincial council elections, President Obama says the vote was “an important step forward” for the Afghan people in taking control of their country’s future in the face of threats from violent extremists.

Despite attacks and threats of violence by the Taliban against those participating in the vote, millions of Afghans went to the polls August 20, Obama told reporters at the White House August 21.

“As I watched the election, I was struck by their courage in the face of intimidation and their dignity in the face of disorder,” he said.

The president said there is “a clear contrast between those who seek to control their future at the ballot box and those who kill to prevent that from happening.”

“I believe that the future belongs to those who want to build, not those who want to destroy. And that is the future that was sought by the Afghans who went to the polls and the Afghan national security forces who protected them,” Obama said.

The president said the August 20 vote was historic as the first democratic election run by Afghans themselves in more than three decades. Afghan national security forces took the lead in protecting voters and providing security for approximately 6,000 polling stations, Obama said. There were more than 30 presidential candidates and 3,000 provincial council candidates on the ballot, including a record number of women. (See “Afghans Taking Lead on Election Security, Fighting Violations.”)

Obama repeated that the United States did not support any particular candidates in the election. “Our only interest was the result fairly, accurately reflecting the will of the Afghan people, and that is what we will continue to support as the votes are counted and we wait for the official results.”

The president said the United States looks forward to renewing its partnership with Afghanistan under its new government. In the meantime, it will continue its work to strengthen the country’s security, governance and economy.

“Our goal is clear: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and their extremist allies. That goal will be achieved, and our troops will be able to come home as Afghans continue to strengthen their own capacity and take responsibility for their own future,” Obama said.

“This is not a challenge that we asked for; it came to our shores when al-Qaida launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghanistan. But America, our allies and partners, and above all the Afghan people share a common interest in pursuing security, opportunity and justice,” he said.

The president also took the opportunity to wish the Afghan people a blessed month of Ramadan. In a separate statement, the president said he wanted to reiterate his commitment “to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world.” (See “Presidential Message on Ramadan.”)

Since the polls closed in Afghanistan on August 20, the two leading presidential contenders, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and incumbent President Hamid Karzai, both have claimed to have won an outright victory, or more than 50 percent of the vote. If neither candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff election is expected to be held in October, according to press reports.

According to Afghanistan’s Independent Electoral Commission, preliminary results indicate that up to 50 percent of the country’s 17 million voters participated.




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