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    US Hails Courage of Afghan Voters

    The United States Thursday paid tribute to Afghans who turned out to vote in the country's crucial presidential election despite an intimidation campaign by the Taliban. U.S. officials say it's too early to assess the credibility of the election.

    The United States heavily supported the electoral process with aid and technical assistance. But it declared its strict impartiality in the presidential race, and says it is now up to the Afghan people to decide if the process was credible.

    A U.S. team headed by the Obama administration's special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke was in Kabul to observe the election, which was also monitored by a wide array of non-governmental groups and experts from various countries.

    Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs P.J. Crowley said it was too early to assess the overall turnout or make judgments about the fairness of the process, but he said it is clear that Afghans overcame major challenges including insurgent violence to organize and hold the election.

    "Turnout progressively increased throughout the day. I don't think we'll have a sense of turnout for some time. But clearly most polling stations, despite sporadic violence were open despite these threats. We expected that insurgents would try to intimidate the election process. And we're pleased, and admire and respect the courage that Afghans showed coming out to vote today," he said.

    Asked about reported low voter turnout in southern Afghanistan, where fears of Taliban attacks were strongest, Crowley said U.S. officials understand that most polling places there were open despite threats of violence.

    He said with significant violence underway in some areas, the success of the election might have to be judged by a different standard than, for example, elections in the United States and said ultimately the Afghan people will have to judge the credibility of the process.

    "I don't think we're underestimating the difficulty of the challenge, the difficulty of the environment within which this election was held.  Afghanistan is experiencing a war, perhaps more than one. But I think it will be important for Afghan people to make that ultimate determination as to whether this was fair," he added.

    Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a written statement, said the United States did not support or oppose any candidate but wanted a credible, secure and inclusive election that all would judge as legitimate.

    She urged candidates and their supporters to avoid speculation and behave responsibly as election results are awaited.

    Final official tallies are not expected until September. If none of the presidential contenders receives a 50 percent-plus-one share of votes cast, a run-off would be held on October 1.
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