KABUL, Jan 23 (Reuters) - 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.
Senior lawmaker Younus Qanuni argued MPs would be protected from the court by parliamentary immunity, and that they would raise the issue of the court’s legality once in parliament.
The United Nations envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, was present at the hotel and had called for a “speedy” agreement to resolve the crisis.
“I know what the concerns of everyone are, and (at) the same time we are hoping that on the 26th as has been announced the parliament can be opened, but we are still working on it,” he told reporters.
Afghanistan’s Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Humayoun Azizi, had earlier told the lawmakers that Karzai would never scrap the special court, saying the presidential decree could not simply be overturned. “Now it’s up to you to decide,” he said.
Lawmakers said Karzai was also seeking a written guarantee that they would abide by the law and step aside if the justice system finds they stole votes. MPs were unimpressed.
“We cannot give him this as it will damage our dignity,” said Qanuni. “We are not criminals so why should we give him this?”
Additional reporting and writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Alex Richardson