December 22, 2001
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Karzai sworn in as Afghanistan's interim head

Dhananjay Mahapatra and A K Dhar in Kabul

A new era of peace dawned in war-ravaged Afghanistan on Friday ending 23 years of bloodshed and civil strife with Hamid Karzai, the Pushtoon royalist, installed as the leader of an interim government in the first peaceful transfer of power in decades.

Forty-four year old Karzai and his 29-member Cabinet, including two women, took the oath of office, as the UN-hammered interim arrangement for six months took effect.

External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh, US forces commander in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks and the UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi were among the foreign dignitaries present to watch the historic event, held in a single large room at the interior ministry amidst tight security.

"I will work hard for the unity of Afghanistan and peace and a better life for our people and for the reconstruction of the country," Karzai said in his oath of office.

Immediately after taking the oath, Karzai embraced outgoing President Burhanuddin Rabbani, 67, the leader of the Northern Alliance.

"The inauguration (of the interim government) marked a momentous day for Afghanistan after years of bitter conflict and war," Brahimi said.

In what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation, ethnic Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum and warlords of other ethnic groups-Pushtoons, Tajiks and Uzbeks -- were present at the two-hour ceremony.

The new government sat on rostrum dominated by a giant portrait of Ahmed Shah Masood, the Northern Alliance commander assassinated by suicide bombers in the days before the September 11 attacks on the US.

Another picture of Masood was also placed in an empty seat in the middle of the front row of the podium reflecting the mood of the new leadership.

Before the swearing-in, 80 British Royal marines entered Kabul, the vanguard of up to 5000 multinational peacekeepers that the UN has authorised to protect the interim government.

In preparation for the ceremony, de-mining teams cleared the venue of the inauguration ceremony of about 20 unexploded grenades and mines.

Plastic flowers were nailed to the walls along with a banner saying 'Down with Terrorism'.

Karzai signed the oath of office before Chief Justice Mohammed Qasim.

"I promise you that I will fulfil my mission to bring peace to Afghanistan," Karzai said.

The assembled crowd erupted in thunderous ovation once when Karzai embraced Rabbani and later at the end of his speech and broke into shouts of 'Allahu Akbar' and 'Masood' each time the assassinated ethnic Tajik commander was named in speeches.

"Our country as a result of the long war, has been distracted. We need hard work from all Afghans. Bearing in mind all these difficulties, our country is in need of support from the UN and all friendly nations. We should put our hands together to be brothers and friends. Forget the painful past," Karzai said.

Karzai concluded the formal ceremony by handing Rabbani the written agreement of the transfer of power, in what is being described as a unique scene for Afghanistan where power has been seized in war and coups since the ouster of the monarchy in 1973.


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