Afghanistan opens Parliament

President Hamid Kazai says Afghanistan has risen from the ashes of invasion and conflict with the opening of its first Parliament after three decades of war.Mr Karzai has sworn in the the new legislators in a ceremony attended by US Vice-President Dick Cheney and other foreign guests. He says the new Parliament is a crucial step towards securing the future of the war-ravaged country."Let me tell the world that Afghanistan is rising from the ashes of invasion and will live forever," he said.

"Parliament is crucial for the establishment of a safe and secure country."Mr Karzai also paid his respects to people who "lost their souls for the freedom of Afghanistan"."The Afghan nation will never forget the blood that these people have given," he said. The last parliament sat in 1973, before a coup that toppled the monarchy.

Russia invaded six years later, sparking a resistance war that ended with Moscow's withdrawal a decade later. The leaders of the resistance then turned on each other in a bitter civil conflict that was largely quelled with the arrival in power of the extremist Taliban in 1996.

The hardliners were toppled in a US-led war in 2001. Since then Afghanistan's efforts to move on from decades of war have been undermined by a deadly insurgency of nearly daily attacks by Taliban and other militants. Mr Karzai says much work lies ahead of the new parliamentarians, most of whom were elected in September in the first general parliamentary election since 1969.

Members of the Senate were appointed afterwards. "This is not the end of the game. We still have a long duty," he said. "There should be competition, struggle and coordination between the Parliament and the Government."

The President also used his speech to review Afghanistan's achievements in its transition to democracy launched after the Taliban were removed. He says the parliamentary vote and the 2004 presidential election, both listed in an internationally agreed roadmap to democracy called the Bonn Agreement, are in particular "a big step for peace and security".

The opening of Parliament is the final stage of the accords, which were reached in Bonn, Germany, in December 2001.

Mr Karzai also thanked the international community, in particular neighbouring Pakistan, for help with reconstruction and counter-terrorism. The destitute country is reliant on international aid and military power. Immediately after Mr Karzai's speech, the opening session of Parliament was adjourned until Tuesday, reports AFP. I.L.

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