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Karzai set to open Afghan parliament

KABUL, Jan 26 – President Hamid Karzai is to declare Afghanistan\’s lower house of parliament open Wednesday after days of tussles pitted the US-backed leader against winners of September\’s parliamentary poll.

Karzai conceded Tuesday that he would inaugurate the Wolesi Jirga — the lower house — following pressure from the UN and the US, but lashed out at interference by "foreign hands" as he tried to calm angry losing candidates.

The embattled president had previously said he would delay the opening of parliament for a month to allow time for a special tribunal to investigate claims of irregularities in September\’s vote for the chamber.

"Some foreign hands questioned our decisions and started instigation to create crises in our country," Karzai said, according to a statement from his office.

They "kept provoking candidates (winning MPs) that they should inaugurate the parliament without the president\’s participation and that we will support you," the statement quoted the president saying.

About 300 losing candidates met Karzai on Tuesday in his fortified palace to protest against his U-turn over the new legislature, and nearly 200 of their number camped out overnight at his office in an unusual show of defiance.

"About 180 to 200 of them refused to leave the palace and spent the night," a presidential aide told AFP from the palace, speaking anonymously because he was not authorised to speak to media.

"They say they\’re protesting the president\’s decision to open the parliament.

He said the protesters, mostly men, spent the night in a large hall within the heavily barricaded presidential palace in central Kabul.

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On Tuesday former MP Daud Sultanzai accused foreign embassies and the UN of pulling the strings of the Afghan government.

"Are we living in an Afghanistan that belongs to the Afghan people or to the (UN) and foreign embassies?" he said.

Karzai has so far refused to endorse results from the fraud-marred poll and despite agreeing to open the legislature he insists that the special tribunal he created to adjudicate claims of irregularities should stand.

"To save the country from foreign interference and crisis we decided to meet with the winning candidates and make them acknowledge that after the inauguration of the parliament they need to accept the ruling of the… court," said his statement.

Twenty-four early winners were disqualified, a quarter of the five million ballots cast thrown out, and there were fewer wins than expected for the majority ethnic Pashtuns in the disputed vote four months ago.

Winning candidates say only regular Afghan courts can lawfully rule on fraud claims and had threatened to convene the parliament without Karzai.

The situation is being watched closely by the international community in Kabul — 2011 is a key year for the war-torn country, with foreign troops due to start a limited withdrawal in July.

The US, UN and EU have all welcomed Karzai\’s decision to relent and open parliament on Wednesday.

Karzai has claimed that winning MPs have given him a written assurance that they will acknowledge the decisions of the special court.

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But the MPs said Karzai\’s tribunal is unlawful and that regular Afghan courts, where lawmakers may have immunity, must handle outstanding claims of election irregularities.

"It is good news for the people of Afghanistan that the national assembly will be inaugurated Wednesday," leading politician Alemi Balkhi told AFP.

But an "absolute majority of the MPs say that the special tribunal is unconstitutional and its verdicts will not be recognised by the elected representatives of the people."


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