Karzai’s inauguration an ’important day for democracy:’ Cannon

Canada’s Conservative government joined several other countries Thursday in backing the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he was sworn in for a second-term.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai

KABUL, Afghanistan — Canada’s Conservative government joined several other countries Thursday in backing the leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai as he was sworn in for a second-term.

Karzai emerged as the victor of the country’s troubled presidential election after the remaining challenger, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, pulled out of a run-off to protest the lack of fairness in the process.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon nevertheless called Karzai’s inauguration an “important day for the democratic development of Afghanistan.”

“This president is a legitimate president,” he said in a conference call with journalists following the ceremony.

A United Nations-backed panel found that widespread vote-rigging took place during the first-round voting in August.

Karzai had more than a million votes rejected from the tally as a result of the investigation.

Cannon said he “warmly congratulated” the president during a meeting Thursday.

“The presidential elections were a significant step, mobilizing millions of Afghans to organize, campaign and vote, but they were not without significant problems,” he said.

“It is important that these problems are addressed quickly to help secure free, fair and transparent parliamentary elections in 2010.”

Cannon met Thursday morning with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as well as several other representatives of countries involved in Afghanistan who turned out to bolster the president’s legitimacy.

The international community will be watching Karzai closely as he chooses his cabinet in the coming days, pushing him to make concessions to Abdullah’s supporters.

Canada, which has 2,800 troops stationed in the southern province of Kandahar, indicated it will be seeking “merit-based” cabinet appointment.

It also welcomed Karzai’s pledge to tackle corruption, which has become a major sticking point for countries with interests in Afghanistan.

“An immense task lies ahead of President Karzai,” said Cannon. “He must give his people hope in their future and confidence in their government.”

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