South Asia

Afghan parliament opens after Karzai delay plan fails

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Media captionHamid Karzai used the occasion to address the Taliban insurgents

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has opened parliament, after failing to win a delay to allow September's disputed elections to be investigated.

Mr Karzai had wanted a special election court to investigate fraud allegations.

But the newly elected MPs argued that it was unconstitutional, and just a means to eject opponents of the president from their seats.

They were backed by the international community, which was worried the standoff could spill onto the streets.

Analysts say Mr Karzai is not happy with the results of the parliamentary poll, which has produced a lower house with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition.

The 249-member lower house of parliament - the Wolesi Jerga - was originally scheduled to open on Sunday.

The BBC's Paul Wood in Kabul say the inauguration brings an end to a test of wills in which President Karzai was the loser.

He had sought a further delay of at least a month to let his special election tribunal investigate the fraud allegations.

But the newly elected MPs cried foul, and were strongly backed by Western officials who were worried about the confrontation spilling onto the streets.

Opening the chamber in Kabul on Wednesday, Mr Karzai apparently could not resist getting in a dig at alleged Western meddling.

"With regard to holding election, safeguarding the people's votes, preventing abuse and foreign interventions, we have been facing serious problems," he told MPs.

"Efforts have been made to show that the latest presidential election was illegitimate."

Police on Wednesday closed off roads more than 1km (half a mile) from the parliamentary building.

Officers also surrounded the auditorium where the swearing-in-ceremony took place.

Winning candidates arrived wearing suits or dressed in traditional robes.

However, there is still no agreement about the powers of the disputed five-judge tribunal that President Karzai has appointed to investigate alleged fraud.

The panel's judges say they have the authority to order recounts and even nullify the entire election if needed. They have said they intend to pursue cases against 59 winning candidates.

Disqualified

But election and international officials say the tribunal's assertions are in breach of both the constitution and electoral law.

Image caption Wednesday's inauguration opened with the national anthem and a recitation from the Koran

The special tribunal was set up by the Supreme Court to investigate allegations of fraud in the parliamentary elections.

About a quarter of the five million votes cast were thrown out and 24 early winners were disqualified.

The new chamber contains bigger groups of ethnic Tajiks and Hazaras, who could challenge the president's traditional power base among Pashtuns, Afghanistan's largest ethnic group.

Although it is largely seen as weak in comparison with the president and his government, the legislature has successfully blocked many cabinet appointments and is a major dissenting voice in the country.

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