Secretary of State Colin Powell says opponents of change will probably try to block Saturday's elections in Afghanistan, but he says the process of democracy in that country is irreversible.

U.S. officials have long been cautioning about the prospect of a wave of election-related violence in Afghanistan. But Mr. Powell says Saturday's election will be a historic day for the people of that country, and that the opponents of democracy cannot stop this process.

Mr. Powell, who spoke to reporters after a meeting late Friday with the President of El Salvador, Tony Saca, said acts of violence are probable, and that the wait for election results will be long, but that he is confident the election will be successful.

"It's not going to be an instantaneous result, as we're used to in other parts of the world," he said. "And so we should be patient, get the ballots counted. But I'm confident the Afghan people are going to go to the polls in strength and demonstrate to the world that in a period of three years, less than three years, they've gone from the tyranny of the Taleban to the freedom of the ballot box."

Mr. Powell said in a commentary to newspapers around the world released Friday that Afghans stand at the dawn of a new day and that the elections are part of an ongoing and irreversible process.

He said while it will take time to build free political institutions, Afghanistan already has the most important component needed to make the process work: the burning desire of its people, after decades of war and devastation, to build a democracy and govern themselves.

The United States has sent a bipartisan observer team to Afghanistan to monitor the voting sponsored by the National Republican Institute and headed by former Assistant Secretary of State Bernard Aronson and retired Ambassador Richard Williamson.

They will join about 500 international observers, and several thousand Afghan poll-watchers.

U.S. officials say more than ten million Afghans, 42 per cent of them women, signed up for the vote though some private experts say the figure may be inflated by duplicate registrations.

In addition, nearly 750,000 Afghan refugees registered to vote from Pakistan, and as many as a 500,000 are eligible to vote from Iran.