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Afghanistan's First Elected President Takes Oath in Triumph

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 7, 2004 – The first freely elected president in Afghanistan's 5,000-year history took the oath of office here today.

"Nothing makes me more hopeful to the future of this country and my ability to serve it than the incredible experience of our country's participation in recent elections," President Hamid Karzai said in his inauguration speech, according to an English translation provided by the Afghan government.

It was a day of great pomp and ceremony here in the country's capital. Afghanistan's bright red and green flag could be seen everywhere, and a bold red banner proclaiming "December 7th Celebrates the Decision of the Afghan Nation" was hung at the entrance to the Salaan Khana ceremonial building where the inauguration was held.

Tears streamed down the faces of some of the ceremony's 800 invited guests as children from the Rabia-e-Balkhi girls school sung about the country's struggles to move forward.

"I'll rebuild you, oh my homeland, even if my flesh must turn to bricks. I will keep your roof upright even if my bones turn to pillars," the girls sang, according to a translation -- visibly moving many in the audience.

Shortly before the ceremony began, Karzai met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the presidential palace here after Cheney and Rumsfeld visited U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base before flying by helicopter to Kabul.

"We're gathered to mark a historic moment in the life of the nation and in the history of human freedom," Cheney said in a joint news conference with Karzai following the meeting. "Scarcely three years ago, a tyranny ruled Afghanistan, and this ancient and beautiful country was a haven for the enemies of civilization.

"Yet the spirit of the Afghan people would not be broken," he said. "Now the tyranny is gone. The terrorist enemy is scattered and the people of Afghanistan are free."

While visiting the troops, Rumsfeld called the peaceful election and today's inauguration a "truly breathtaking accomplishment."

Also while visiting U.S. servicemembers earlier in the day, Cheney said, the whole world -- and the Middle East in particular -- is watching today's events. "Across the broader Middle East, people look to Afghanistan and see something new and hopeful in the world's most troubled region," he said.

In his news conference immediately before the official ceremony, Karzai thanked the United States for helping to make this day possible. He said that because of the help the United States provided, Afghanistan is now at peace, rebuilding, and sending children to school, and is again a respected member of the international community.

"Without that help, Afghanistan would be in the hands of terrorists, destroyed, poverty-stricken and without its children going to school or getting an education," Karzai said. "We are very, very grateful to the people of the United Stets of America for bringing us this day, a day of peace, a day of democracy, a day of the empowerment of the Afghan people."

This empowerment, he said, is the United States' greatest gift to the Afghan people.

During the press conference, Cheney praised Karzai as an "Afghan patriot," who has "taken incredible personal risk and made many sacrifices for his country.

"He has served his fellow citizens with wisdom and humanity and a sense of duty that have won him the admiration of millions throughout the world," Cheney said.

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