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Karzai Sets Date To Open New Afghan Parliament


Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has set a date of January 26 as the opening day of a new session of parliament, ending a standoff with lawmakers that could have triggered a constitutional crisis.

Karzai made the announcement on January 24 after the country's Supreme Court approved the opening date. In a statement, the presidential palace said the decision was made for the "national interests of the country."

Afghan legislator-elect Shukria Barekzai said lawmakers were informed the day before that a political crisis had been averted.

"After hours of discussions in the presidential palace, our colleagues told us the president proposed for parliament to be inaugurated on [January 26]," he said. "I think the legislators-elect accepted the proposed view and it was agreed that the first session of parliament will be convened [on that day]."

The United Nations and the U.S. government welcomed the deal that will allow the legislative session to open without further delay.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Afghan people have been waiting months for lawmakers to begin work.

"Let me stress the importance of a timely opening of the Afghan parliament. I think it was four months ago, millions of Afghan voters cast their vote, and they deserve a strong political leadership in their country. So I think the time is ripe for the opening of the Afghan parliament," Rasmussen said.

'No Legal Issues' To Opening

Karzai threatened last week to delay the opening of parliament for more than a month so that a presidential-ordered investigation into complaints surrounding September's parliamentary elections could be carried out.

But lawmakers opposed to further delay threatened to open the session without Karzai's approval. Parliamentarians sent a letter to Karzai asking him to convene parliament without delay and to annul the special court that was formed to look into voting complaints, which they consider unconstitutional.

Karzai agreed to the first demand but not the second -- insisting that the special tribunal must still carry out its work.

Election Complaint Commission spokesman Ahmad Zia Rafat said he didn't see any reason why parliament should not open.

"The Election Complaint Commission believes the doors are open for parliament's inauguration. As far as the commission is concerned, there are no legal issues [to prevent the new parliament convening]," Rafat said.

Potential For Abuse

Election authorities threw out one-quarter of more than 5 million votes cast on September 18 and disqualified 24 preliminary victors before announcing victory for 249 new lawmakers in November.

The special tribunal claims the power to unseat any candidate incriminated in vote-rigging. Fifty-nine winning candidates are among those being investigated by the tribunal, so its rulings could fundamentally alter the makeup of parliament.

Observers say Karzai could potentially use the tribunal, which is packed with his appointees, to pressure parliamentarians not to stray from his desired platform.

NATO, which leads a force of 150,000 troops in Afghanistan, is keen for Karzai's government to focus on improving security and governance in the face of a growing insurgency that is killing foreign troops, Afghan forces, and civilians at the highest rates since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001.

written by Heather Maher with contributions from RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan and agency reports

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