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Karzai backs down in lawmakers row

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to scrap a one-month delay in convening the new parliament, ending a stand-off with lawmakers that had threatened to spark a constitutional crisis.

Mr Karzai had ordered the opening session to be postponed to allow more time for a special tribunal to investigate allegations of fraud in September's parliamentary election.

That set off an outcry among lawmakers and drew heavy pressure from the US, the UN and other world powers for Mr Karzai to resolve the dispute and allow lawmakers to get to work.

After hours of discussions at the presidential palace, Mr Karzai agreed to open the legislature on Wednesday, according to two of the lawmakers involved, Shukria Barakzai of Kabul and Gul Pacha Majidi of Ghazni province.

In return, he asked the parliamentarians to agree that any criminal case against a lawmaker can go forward, said Mirwais Yasini, a representative from eastern Nangarhar province who was deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament in the last session.

The legislators agreed to this and have drafted a letter to send to the president on Sunday, Mr Yasini said.

Legislators had threatened to defy the president's ordered delay and start the session on their own on Sunday, as originally scheduled.

Under Afghan law, the president must attend to inaugurate the legislature at its opening session, and speaking a hotel in Kabul, Mr Barakzai said: "He is coming and Wednesday will be at the opening.

Some politicians, however, were not happy with the outcome, signalling that the political tension could drag on. Daoud Sultanzoy, a former parliamentarian who lost his seat in chaotic election in Ghazni province, said Karzai bowed to pressure from the international community to support the appearance of a fair vote rather than waiting for the courts to make a decision.

"The US and the European Union and everyone are ganging up on the people of Afghanistan," he said. "It's a very tragic situation that the president is deciding to do this under international pressure."

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