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Karzai promises 'free and fair' democratic process

Hamid Karzai said the interim government is
Hamid Karzai said the interim government is "committed to letting the Afghan people determine their own future."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, addressed members of the National Press Club Tuesday, outlining the progress of democracy in his country and supporting the United States' position on the Afghan war detainees being held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"The people that are detained in Guantanamo [Bay], they are not prisoners of war. I see it in very clear terms, gentleman and ladies," Karzai said. "They're criminals. They brutalized Afghanistan, they killed our people, they destroyed our land.

"There was no war there: It was plain killing fields."

Karzai's comments echoed the position of President Bush, who said Monday the detainees would not be treated as prisoners of war. Bush acknowledged that he is still considering the "legal ramifications" of whether the Geneva Conventions apply to them.

Some human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have objected to the administration's stance. The detainees would be afforded more rights and would have better living conditions as prisoners of war, they claim.

CNN's Michael Holmes has more on the charismatic interim leader as he tries to win over ethnic Afghan groups. (January 29)

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Karzai's visit is the first by an Afghan leader to the United States since 1963. Karzai met Monday with Bush and members of the Cabinet and Congress, and will be Bush's guest at the State of the Union address Tuesday night. He departs for New York Wednesday, where he is scheduled to visit Ground Zero and address a session of the U.N. Security Council.

International ramifications

In his speech to the Press Club, Karzai noted that Afghanistan had warned the international community its internal problems would have global consequences.

"We, in Afghanistan, knew all along what was in there in Afghanistan -- the presence of terrorism, the consequence for the world -- and we kept telling the world community, all of them, the American government, the Europeans," Karzai said. "Unfortunately ... our predictions came true in the most tragic way for Afghanistan and for the United States of America. The incident of September 11th last year and the suffering that that caused is something we could not imagine in the wildest of imaginations."

Referring to the Bonn Agreement, which provides the structure for forming a permanent government after the Taliban's fall, Karzai said a commission has been set up to pick the members of a Loya Jirga, or grand council, to choose the country's next government.

The process would be "free and fair," said Karzai, adding that his interim government has "made a pledge to the United nations that we ... will not in any way intervene in the working of the commission."

"We are committed to a democratic process in Afghanistan," Karzai said. "We are committed to letting the Afghan people determine their own future."




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