Afghan lawmakers drop Karzai court demand

Afghan lawmakers set aside a demand for President Hamid Karzai to scrap a controversial court probing election fraud on Sunday, paving the way for parliament to convene in three days after weeks of in-fighting.

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

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.

After marathon talks on Saturday, MPs said Karzai had offered to open parliament on Wednesday, but lawmakers also demanded that he abolish the special poll court that sparked the dispute.

It was set up by Karzai, ostensibly to ensure a speedy final check of complaints from the fraud-riddled September 18 election, but last week officials asked for more time to complete their probes.

Furious lawmakers slammed the court, its ruling and Karzai’s granting of an extension as illegal, sparking the crisis.

But although Karzai has relented on the inauguration date, and hinted he might relinquish the court, on Sunday he said “no.”

A majority of more than 200, from the 249 MPs in the lower house, hunkered down at Kabul’s Intercontinental hotel, agreed on Sunday to set aside the issue of the court and to go ahead with the Wednesday inauguration, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.