President Bush says the people of Afghanistan have taken another step toward democracy and deserve praise. One day after Afghan voters went to the polls to elect a parliament, Mr. Bush went out of his way to hail their courage and commitment to the democratic process.
When reporters were brought in to record the final moments of a White House meeting on Hurricane Katrina, the president briefly changed the subject to talk about events almost half a world away.
He reflected on Afghanistan's first parliamentary election in three decades, and hailed the bravery of Afghans who went to the polls despite threats from remnants of the ousted Taleban regime.
"I want to congratulate the people of Afghanistan for showing up at the polls and defying the Taleban and those who threaten their lives and say, look, you know, these people supported democracy. It is just another step on their road toward a stable democracy and we congratulate them," said Mr. Bush.
Turnout was much lower than in last year's presidential election in Afghanistan, with early estimates indicating that just more than half the eligible voters cast ballots. But organizers said they considered the turnout satisfactory, and said it compared well with elections in other postwar countries.
Observers reported a number of election violations, including attempts to intimidate voters and armed attacks on polling stations in several locations. But the widespread violence promised by the Taleban did not occur, and overall initial observer comments on the conduct of the balloting were positive.
Afghanistan's parliamentary elections were seen as the last formal step toward democracy under an international blueprint drafted after the ouster of the Taleban by American forces almost four years ago.