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Karzai Inaugurates New Afghan Parliament As Political Crisis Lingers


The inauguration of the newly elected members of the Afghan parliament
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has inaugurated the country's new parliament, ending a standoff with its newly elected members.

The inaugural session came four months after September parliamentary elections that were marred by violence and allegations of fraud and which are still being investigated by a special tribunal.

The president had wanted to delay the inauguration by a month to allow the special court to investigate complaints of election fraud.

Karzai set up the special election court, which can disqualify candidates if they are found guilty of corruption. Lawmakers accused Karzai of seeking to remove opponents from their newly won seats and threatened to convene without him.

Under pressure, Karzai backed down and agreed the opening session should go ahead.

But he reminded the lawmakers that many questions related to the elections still remain unanswered.

"I hope that in the light of our constitution, the three pillars of the Afghan state -- the judiciary, the executive, and the legislative -- would undertake joint efforts to answer the needs and aspirations of the people," Karzai said. "[I hope that] they would jointly work toward a stable and law-abiding Afghanistan."

Conciliatory Tone

Today's inauguration is seen as a victory for the newly elected members of the lower house of parliament.

Karzai's overall tone during his hour-long inauguration address was, however, conciliatory.

"It is natural that there is competition during the elections. It is natural that there are problems, but when the competition ends, the national unity starts," he told lawmakers.

But the political crisis could linger even after today's inauguration, as the probe into the election results continues.

Observers suggest that any disqualifications of sitting lawmakers might strengthen opposition to Karzai and widen the gulf between the president and the parliament.

Elsewhere in his address, in a thinly veiled reference to the pressures he has been facing from Western diplomats, the Afghan president returned to the issue of "foreign interference" many times and termed it a "serious problem."

"During the election process, we faced serious problems in protecting people's votes, preventing fraud, and from the interference of foreigners," he said.

Karzai, who developed sharp differences with his Western backers during the 2009 presidential election, said foreign interference in the vote had led to a less transparent election.

"We must 'Afghanize' government institutions and the elections. Undoubtedly, elections convened by the Afghans will be more transparent, less expensive," he said.

written by Abubakar Siddique, with agency reports
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