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First Popularly-Elected Afghan President Urges Iraqis to Participate in Polls

Less than a week after he was formally inaugurated as Afghanistan's first popularly-elected president, Hamid offered words of advice for the people of Iraq, who are preparing to go to the polls next month.

Shortly after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, American troops invaded Afghanistan to oust suspected perpetrator Osama Bin Laden and his protectors, the country's ruling Taleban.

Three years later, Osama Bin Laden is in hiding, the Taleban is no longer ruling Afghanistan and the country in October held its first-ever democratic election.

Afghan voters gave a landslide presidential victory to Hamid Karzai, who officially took office last week. On Sunday, President Karzai told CNN's Late Edition he now hopes Iraq will follow his country's example and take advantage of a non-violent way to take control of their own country. He also referred to the ongoing insurgency in Iraq and warned Iraqis against helping foreign fighters.

"The Iraqi people also gain nothing if they allow these people who come from outside and destroy their lives," he said. "They must go to the polls. They must take this opportunity, elect their people to parliament, have a government of their own and have peace. That's a desire for them and that's a way out for them."

In the interview, Mr. Karzai was asked about a letter from Human Rights Watch earlier this month that raised questions about alleged human rights violations by U.S. troops who hold Afghans at detention centers around the country.

President Karzai said he believes the Afghan people have accepted that the democracy they currently enjoy has been secured at a price, namely the loss of Afghan and American lives. But he added that as the new Afghan government becomes more established, it is planning to look into the charges.

"We have discussed this with the American government, with the U.S. forces here, with the U.S. Ambassador here," he said. "There is complete agreement on that. We are moving towards improving that situation. It's something on which we are clear, we are on top of it, and we will resolve it."

When asked whether his government is any closer to tracking down Osama Bin Laden, the head of the al-Qaida terrorist network, Mr. Karzai said yes and no.

"In terms of the success of the Afghan nation, and the coalition against terrorism, yes we are much closer. In terms of getting him physically, let's count on our luck and good pursuit," he added.

The wanted terrorist is believed to be hiding out somewhere along Afghanistan's border with Pakistan. Mr. Karzai expressed satisfaction with Islamabad's help in the matter.

Meanwhile, Mr. Karzai said his new government is seriously concerned about opium poppy cultivation, which United Nations figures say is responsible for about two-thirds of Afghanistan's economy.

He said his Afghan countrymen are, in his words, "embarrassed" to be known as a nation of opium poppy growers. He added that steps his government will take include destroying poppy fields and replacing poppies with alternative crops.