Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - President Bush applauded the historic Afghan elections over the weekend as a "really great thing." Vote-counting was set to begin on Monday amid charges of voter fraud.
Millions of Afghan citizens defied threats of violence from the Taliban and turned out to vote in the country's first democratic elections. There were an estimated 10 million registered voters in the country of some 25 million people.
United Nations spokesman Almeida e Silva described the turnout for the elections as "massive." It could take up to three weeks to tally the results. President Hamid Karzai is expected to win the elections.
But the success of the polls was tainted by charges of voter fraud and the threats by 15 of the 18 opposition candidates to boycott the election results. However, most of the candidates backed away from the boycott threat after it was agreed that an independent commission would be established to study the results of the election.
Complaints began when it was discovered that the supposedly indelible ink used to mark voters' fingers to prevent them from casting more than one ballot could be easily washed or rubbed off.
Two groups that observed the elections reportedly said that the vote was fair enough for the results to stand, and U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said that despite the "technical difficulties," the "results will stand."
The elections in Afghanistan mark a turning point in the country, which has been besieged by war for 22 years and is still threatened by rogue elements of the brutal Taliban regime.
Afghanistan was the first stage in Bush's declared war against terrorism, where the U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban regime after it refused to give up al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, following the 9/11 terror attacks against the U.S.
At a campaign rally over the weekend, President Bush said that "a really great thing" was happening in Afghanistan.
"The people of that country, who just three years ago were suffering under the brutal regime of the Taliban, are going to the polls to vote for president," Bush said.
Bush noted that it was symbolic that a 19-year-old woman, a former Afghan refugee, was the first person to cast a vote in the country where the Taliban had brutally oppressed them.
"Just three years ago, women were being executed in the sports stadium. Today they're voting for a leader of a free country," Bush said. "Amazing, isn't it? Freedom is beautiful."
Speaking on ABC's "This Week," vice presidential candidate Senator John Edwards did not question the legitimacy of the elections but said that the country had "a long way to go" before it would be a successful democracy.
Edwards highlighted the rise in opium production. "On top of that, there are big chunks of the country still in the control of warlords and drug lords, and there are still some serious security issues in the country."
Afghanistan's army and police were credited with having ensured the safety of the polling throughout the country. Some 25,000 Afghan police officers and nearly 12,000 soldiers protected the polls.
Authorities said that Afghan citizens had themselves been vigilant and had handed in some 25 improvised explosive devices.
The army also was credited with intercepting and seizing a truck carrying 10,000 gallons of gasoline and wired to rockets, anti-tank mines and explosives outside of Kandahar.
The U.S. still has some 17,000 troops in Afghanistan and NATO has 9,000 in the International Security Assistance Force, authorized by the U.N.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw hailed the election as a "significant milestone."
"Their enthusiasm and their determination to control their own democratic destiny is an inspiration to every one of us," Straw said. "With the Afghan people turning out in such huge numbers to elect their first-ever democratic head of state, it is already clear that a significant milestone has been reached in Afghanistan's history."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who re-elected on Saturday, said that the war on terrorism had made the election in Afghanistan possible.
"That election has been made possible by reason of the fact that a number of countries, including Australia, were prepared to take a stand for democracy and to take a stand against terrorism," Howard said.
Canada's Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew also congratulated the Afghanistan people.
"This election represents an important milestone in the country's democratic transition and an impressive achievement of the Afghan people," Pettigrew said.
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