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Karzai's inaction throws government into chaos

Kabul - Afghan President Hamid Karzai kept silent on Sunday about a deal to end a political crisis by inaugurating parliament on Wednesday, as lawmakers worried he would cling to a special election court they consider illegal.

Mr. Karzai on Saturday abandoned a decision to delay the opening of the assembly by a month, bowing to heavy international and domestic pressure after lawmakers threatened to convene the assembly with or without him on the scheduled date, Jan. 23.

The standoff threw the government into chaos at a time when insurgent violence is at its worst since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban government by U.S-backed forces.

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MPs said Mr. Karzai offered after marathon talks on Saturday to open parliament just three days later than scheduled, and hinted he may consider abolishing the court that triggered the turmoil.

A majority of MPs agreed to accept the compromise on the date, but also told Karzai the court had to go. They have had no response yet from the palace to their demands.

"We waited to see the chief justice .... [Saturday]but the president told us that since it is a political debate, the chief justice doesn't want to take part," said Younus Qanuni, who has been chosen as an unofficial speaker for parliament.

"Our understanding is that if they had a convincing argument (supporting the court) to present to the Wolesi Jirga [lower house] they would have participated."

The lawmakers gathered again at the Intercontinental hotel on Sunday, but appeared divided among themselves over how much leeway to give the president. Some said they feared he would try to engineer another postponement of the Wednesday opening.

Mr. Karzai set up the special tribunal by presidential decree after protests by losing candidates angry at corruption and winners frustrated that they still had not taken their seats.

It was meant to resolve outstanding cases rapidly ahead of the inauguration, but last week asked Mr. Karzai for more time.

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Critics question the court's legitimacy and say it serves Mr. Karzai's political agenda rather than the interests of justice.

The final results, announced by Dec. 1 and endorsed by Afghanistan's Western backers, have created a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition bloc than in the last parliament.

The losing candidates are strong supporters of the count and outside Kabul's Eid Gah mosque on Sunday some 200 supporters of losing Kabul contender Najeebullah Mujaheed demanded the tribunal be given time to rule on more than 300 election complaints.

Mujaheed branded the winners "mafiosos and drug traffickers", and said his supporters would prevent parliament from opening.

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