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New Afghan Government Takes Office

Hamid Karzai was sworn in as Afghanistan's new leader on Saturday. He heads an interim government. Its task is to bring peace to the war-torn country and reconcile the different ethnic groups.

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Outgoing President Burhanuddin Rabbani (left) embraces Hamid Karzai at Saturday's ceremony.

When Hamid Karzai was sworn in on Saturday, the ceremony marked the first peaceful handover of power in Afghanistan in 28 years.

Hamid Karzai heads a 30-member interim government. It is supposed to bring peace to a land which was ravaged by decades of war. Karzai's administration is due to stay in power for six months.

"I will try my best to rise above the ethnic, religious and linguistic prejudices to serve my country and work for national unity," Karzai said during the ceremony. He made a special pledge to respect the role of women.

The United Nations special representative Lakhdar Brahimi said that this was a momentous day for Afghanistan. He added that "the challenges ahead are also momentous and everyone present today will have a share in facing up to those challenges."

Hamid Karsai vereidigt

Hamid Karzai takes the oath of office as Afghanistan interim prime minister at the Interior Ministry in Kabul on Saturday, Dec. 22, 2001.

2,000 tribal leaders, diplomats and UN delegates witnessed the ceremony. One of the guests was U.S. General Tommy Franks, the man who commanded the American troops in Afghanistan. U.S. and British forces freed the land from the Taliban after six years of fundamentalist rule.

Armed patrols

Security was tight in the Afghan capital during the swearing-in ceremony. British Royal Marines took up positions in the streets outside the venue where Karzai was inaugurated.

Armed British troops patrolled Kabul to boost security for the first time. They are the spearhead of the international peacekeeping force for Afghanistan.

The first British soldiers arrived in Afghanistan on Friday -- A vanguard unit that was sent to help Afghan authorities maintain security at the inauguration ceremony.

The presence of the international protection force is designed to ensure the stability of the Hamid Karzai's administration. Britain will initially head the force.

Attack

A U.S. attack on a convoy late on Thursday marred the run-up to the ceremony. US officials said the convoy had fired at U.S. military forces. The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press, however, reported that the convoy was carrying tribal elders on their way to Satuday's ceremony.

US Marine Corps General Peter Pace said gunships and fighter aircraft had attacked some ten to twelve vehicles. American officials said they had received reports that members of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership were in the convoy, though General Pace said he could not identify those persons.

At a press briefing, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that a lot of people had been killed in the strike. Washington has rejected reports that the convoy was made up of about 65 tribal elders and mujahideen on their way to the inauguration ceremonies for the new administration in Kabul.

Humanitarian aid needed

The survival of Hamid Karzai's interim government will partly depend upon the presence of an international protection force. But what the country urgently requires is humanitarian aid - in particular food and medication.

The Red Cross has sent its first aid shipments along the newly-opened route from Tajikistan to Northern Afghanistan. Many more need to follow.

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