Thursday, August 20, 2009

NATO chief hails Afghan elections

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen today congratulated Afghans who had defied the Taliban by casting their ballots in the country's presidential elections, calling the vote's Afghan-led security operation 'a success'.

'I congratulate the people of Afghanistan for the courage they have shown,' Rasmussen said in a speech made during a visit to Iceland that was broadcast live on the NATO website.

'The Afghan national security forces led the security effort and they should be applauded. They have done done everything possible to make these elections as secure and as inclusive as possible,' he said.

The NATO chief made his speech just moments before reports came in from Kabul indicating that more than 50 people had been killed on polling day. The news reached Western capitals after the Afghan government lifted its day-long reporting restriction.

The Taliban insurgency had carried out numerous attacks in the run-up to the vote in a bid to deter Afghans from casting their ballots.

There are currently 64,500 soldiers in Afghanistan as part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which has been assisting the Afghan police and army on polling day.

Noting that the security situation on voting day had been 'better than expected', Rasmussen said it was crucial that Afghans considered the elections credible.

The NATO chief recently toured Afghanistan and met with President Hamid Karzai and other leading contenders. On Thursday he urged all candidates 'to handle the outcome of the elections in a responsible manner, whatever may be the outcome.'

Rasmussen said that during his visit to Afghanistan, all of the candidates had assured him of their 'willingness to cooperate after the elections and embark on a reconciliation process, which I think is the way forward.'

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