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Thursday, 13 June, 2002, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Karzai elected Afghan leader
Delegates to the loya jirga
Delegates said this was a new beginning
Afghanistan's grand assembly - or loya jirga - has overwhelmingly chosen interim leader Hamid Karzai to be the country's next head of state.

Mr Karzai received more than 80% of the votes cast - his closest rival was Massouda Jalal, the first ever woman to put her name forward.


God willing, I will be of service to Afghanistan, my religion and will work for the development of my country

Hamid Karzai

The voting was held by secret ballot at the insistence of the winner who had said he wanted the result to be legitimate.

On the wave of a resounding ovation, Mr Karzai thanked the delegates for the trust they had put on him and promised to go forward humbly to serve the people of Afghanistan.

The new head of state is to lead Afghanistan into elections in 2004.

Beginning

Voting - with black-and-white photos of the candidates adjacent to their names on the ballot slips - extended into the evening.

At the end, as expected, Mr Karzai won convincingly - 1295 votes out of 1575 cast. Dr Massouda Jalal got 171, and the third contender - government official Mahfouz Nedaei - 89.

Results
Total number of votes cast: 1575
Hamid Karzai: 1295
Massouda Jalal: 171
Mahfouz Nedaei: 89
83 people did not take part
"This feels like democracy. Maybe it isn't yet. But we're getting there," said one of the delegates, Abdullah from Kunduz, after casting his ballot.

"It's the first time ever in our history that we are witnessing such a situation. I like watching the people line up to vote," said another - H. Aktar Mohammed, an ethnic Pashtun from Ghazni province.

Proud

The BBC's Mike Wooldridge says the man who has made his mark around the world in the six months he has headed the interim administration has now won a mandate to steer the country through the next, most critical phase of its transition.

Afghan leader Hamid Karzai
Karzai: proud to serve
He thanked the delegates for choosing him for the task ahead - he said it was "a matter of pride for me, for my friends, sisters and brothers, like you who voted for me to be head of the transitional period".

And then he promised to carry on the work which has barely begun.

"God willing, I will be of service to Afghanistan, my religion and will work for the development of my country."

In his nomination speech, the Afghan leader promised to focus on reconciliation in the post-Taleban era and reconstruction.

Our correspondent says Mr Karzai faces a formidable task of extending his government's writ across the whole country and pressure to do much more to balance Afghanistan's often volatile ethnic and regional interests.

Rivalries

Earlier, following hours of often bitter and acrimonious exchanges, the loya jirga elected its chairman - Professor Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar.

The meeting is also due to appoint a successor government and choose a new parliament.

Loya jirga
2,000 delegates
1,051 elected members
Guaranteed seats for 160 women
53 seats for current government
100 seats for Afghan refugees and six for internally displaced Afghans
25 seats for nomads

On Wednesday, up to 70 delegates walked out of the conference, complaining that they were being denied a free vote.

Many attending the gathering said they wanted to nominate and elect former King Mohammed Zahir Shah as head of state, but he ruled himself out of the race on Monday - amid allegations that his withdrawal and that of ex-President Burhanuddin Rabbani had been engineered by the United States.

The interim government led by Mr Karzai took office under a UN-brokered deal in December, after US air attacks helped opposition forces to overthrow the Taleban.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Peter Biles
"Hamid Karzai has become an instantantly recognisable figure around the world"
The BBC's Kate Clark
"There is still a great deal of disquiet"
Zalmay Kalilzad, US envoy to Afghanistan
"We see warlords as a threat in the long term"

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13 Jun 02 | South Asia
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