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Pro-Democracy Advocates Rally in Kabul - 2001-12-23

Afghanistan's new interim government had its first public show of support on Sunday, as a handful of pro-democracy advocates marched in the streets of Kabul. The marchers carried with them a petition calling for the reconstruction of the country and the creation of a democratic society where human rights are respected. The Afghan march came as the interim government held its first Cabinet meeting.

They numbered no more than 50 or so and were almost outnumbered by the journalists who followed them. Their chants could not even be heard above the sounds of Kabul's traffic.

But if their numbers were small, their goals were big.

Nasrullah Stanekzai, professor of law and political science at Kabul University, was the chief organizer of the rally. He said that Afghanistan has lived through a great tragedy, and he expressed the hope that the international community, especially the United Nations, will help Afghanistan rebuild.

Radio and TV journalist Jamila Mujahed echoed those sentiments in her call for an end to the decades of bloodshed and destruction her country has experienced.

"It is not just my wish," she said. "It is the wish of all the people -- that the fighting comes to an end. It is only the United Nations that can help us with this. I hope this time they will not leave us alone."

U.N. spokesman Ahmed Fawzi greeted the marchers, when they arrived unexpectedly at United Nations headquarters. He invited them in, listened to their petition and reassured them that, while they may not get everything they want when they want it, the international community was not going to abandon them again.

"There will not be airplanes flying and throwing money into the country, I assure you," said Mr. Fawzi. "What is going to happen is that the donor communities will be funding programs of experts to come in and help you in all the fields that you have mentioned - education, health, reconstruction - and there will be bilateral programs. I am confident that countries will be inviting young people from Afghanistan to learn from their experiences in democracy, and applying international law to everyday life," said the U.N. official.

The rally organizers said they marched to show their support for the new government. But with Afghanistan's history of factional fighting and instability, it was not the new government they turned to, but the international community.