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Democracy D-Day in Kabul

Kabul, Dec. 19 (Reuters): Former warlords, ex-communists, Taliban defectors and women activists were sworn in today members of the first Afghan Parliament in over 30 years amid hopes of national reconciliation after decades of bloodshed.

The inauguration was peaceful despite threats by Taliban guerrillas and was greeted with tears of emotion although there is disappointment that many in the Parliament are accused of serious rights abuses and links to the drugs trade.

“This meeting is a sign of us regaining our honour,” President Hamid Karzai said after swearing in the 351 lower and upper House members. “This homeland will exist for ever!” he said, prompting tears from many delegates.

Karzai urged national reconciliation after almost three decades of warfare and reiterated a call to the Taliban to abandon their insurgency, which has intensified in the past year despite his efforts to encourage defections.

Parliament has to endorse Karzai’s ministers and government officials said after the inauguration he was considering reshuffling his cabinet and cutting the number of ministries.

The officials said the reshuffle would affect at least two ministries, including foreign affairs. Defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak confirmed: “Yes, there will be some changes.” But he refused to give details.

Analysts say Karzai appears to have enough support in Parliament to avoid major problems, but could face difficulties with appointments, given disappointment at his administration’s failure to improve people’s lives and carry out crucial reforms.

The inauguration was the culmination of a UN-backed plan to bring democracy to Afghanistan, drawn up after US-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001. “It means a lot,” Karzai said. “It means progress, it means achievement, it means togetherness.”

US Vice-President Dick Cheney, who attended the inauguration after a visit to Washington’s more troubled front in Iraq, said the US was committed to supporting Afghanistan for the long term.

Security was tight after a Taliban suicide attack near Parliament on Friday and a vow by the guerrillas for more attacks on “a symbol of American occupation”.

While the inauguration passed peacefully, they killed three policemen early today on the Pakistani border.

 

 

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