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Europe

European Press Review: An Optimistic Sign

European newspapers on Monday largely praised Afghans for defying threats of violence and voting in their country's first free elections over the weekend.

Switzerland's Neue Zürcher Zeitung applauded Afghan women for "defying the death threats of the Taliban and the mistrust of traditionalist men, who feel challenged by women appearing in public." The paper called Afghan progress "inarguable," three years after the fall of the Taliban. The paper pointed to the "three million refugees" who "have now gone back to their homes".

The Guardian in London said the elections are "the most optimistic sign to come from Afghanistan for some time." The paper said that "the sight of long queues patiently waiting outside polling stations on Saturday is some vindication of the international efforts to reconstruct Afghanistan."

Germany's Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung observed that "slowly, but consistently, a legal system is developing, young women are going to school even in particularly traditional areas, and more and more warlords are working together with the central government." The paper said there could not be a better contribution to the dialogue of cultures than "a blooming Afghanistan with Islamic values."

Austria's Salzburger Nachrichten noted that suddenly the development of Afghanistan is no longer dominated by war and conflict, but rather by politics. Despite irregularities in the election, "there still aren't any signs, that the Afghans are putting the vote into question," the paper said.

Vienna-based Der Standard said that "the terror people feared stayed away" from the elections and the error with the ink used for marking voters’ fingers was no more than “a mistake without consequences for the complete result." The paper concluded that "the first Afghan elections could have been worse."

Paris-based Liberation however, found one point of complaint: voter participation. "The voting boxes were half empty," the paper wrote. However, "the process of democracy hasn't been cut off," but "it would be more secure, if US President George Bush hadn't turned away from Afghanistan in his efforts to create democracy in Iraq."

Italy's La Stampa also compared Afghanistan and Iraq. "Would Iraqi elections be equally orderly?" the paper asked. "Because there are obviously some basic differences. Afghanistan," the paper reminded, "has a single, strong historical tradition, although it's divided up under various local power-holders." Iraq in contrast "has a relatively young colonial history, where large ethnic and religious communities exist, that are enemies in ideals and politics," the paper wrote. It pointed out that "in Afghanistan, the war was conducted through Afghan militias, who took their territory from the Taliban." But in Iraq, "the war was led directly by the Allies, the local army was dissolved, and new fighting forces were put out way too late, after a guerilla movement had already been formed."