EU, NATO hail Afghan assembly session

NATO and the European Union on Monday separately hailed the first session of Afghanistan's first elected assembly in more than 30 years a crucial phase in the country's political evolution. "I warmly congratulate the Afghan people on this important day, in which a democratically elected Afghan Parliament is sitting for the first time in more than 30 years," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a statement.

He called the assembly's inaugural session earlier Monday in Kabul "a visible sign that the democratic process is taking hold and comes on the heels of equally important milestones achieved since 2001, such as the drafting of a constitution and free elections."

The EU called the inauguration of the Afghan National Assembly an "historic occasion." Both NATO and the EU pledged to continue efforts to help Afghanistan become democratic with De Hoop Scheffer saying NATO peacekeepers "will continue to play a key role in this regard" as they expand their operations in the months ahead throughout the country.

Afghanistan is still far from stable. Some 20,000 U.S. troops are deployed there, along with thousands of peacekeepers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Violence is rife in the country's south and east, where remnants of the Taliban are waging an insurgency marked by near daily killings and bombings. Afghanistan's economy relies heavily on the trade in illicit drugs, a threat NATO's top operational commander, U.S. Gen. James L. Jones, has suggested is more serious than the Taliban insurgency, reports the AP. I.L.

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