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Karzai Delays New Afghan Cabinet Announcement

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- President Hamid Karzai has postponed the long-awaited announcement of a new cabinet until December 19, requiring extra time to finalize his list, a palace spokesman said today.

Karzai, inaugurated last month for a second full term after winning a fraud-marred election in August, had said last week he would provide a list of ministers to parliament by today.

Spokesman Siyamak Herawi said the cabinet was delayed while Karzai sorts out his candidates for two ministries.

Karzai, leader of Afghanistan since Taliban's ouster in 2001, is under intense pressure from the West to keep technocrats in important positions, but also may need to offer posts to former guerrilla chiefs and their allies who supported his reelection.

Candidates will have to be approved by parliament, which could take several weeks.

Karzai promised at his inauguration last month that he would appoint competent and honest ministers.

Western officials have publicly said the cabinet lineup is a first vital test to show whether he is serious about combating corruption, which undermines his government's credibility and feeds the Taliban insurgency.

Karzai won the election in part by receiving the support of powerful regional chieftains. Diplomats say they believe he promised cabinet posts in return, although they are cautiously hopeful he will keep capable people in important posts.

Washington says it will not give money to ministries that spend its aid cash unless it trusts the minister in charge. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has endorsed the security ministers in charge of the Afghan National Army and police.

President Barack Obama announced this month that 30,000 extra U.S. troops will join nearly 110,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. A perception in the West that Karzai's government is weak and corrupt has eroded public support for the mission.