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Karzai says to open Afghan parliament Wednesday

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has confirmed he will inaugurate parliament on Wednesday, saying he had Supreme Court approval to go ahead after days of political turmoil.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai inspects the guard of honour during a welcoming ceremony after arriving on an official visit at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, January 20, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

Afghanistan has been plunged into political crisis by a standoff between members of parliament and Karzai over when the new assembly should open, after the president last week ordered another month’s delay for a probe into electoral fraud.

Confronted with a rebellion from lawmakers, Karzai backed down and offered to open parliament on Wednesday, more than four months after the election, but just four days after the originally scheduled January 23 ceremony.

He referred the deal to the Supreme Court, and his office issued a statement late on Monday saying it had been endorsed and the opening would go ahead.

“In consideration of Afghanistan’s national interest, President Karzai will inaugurate parliament on January 26.”

The United States and other allies who support Afghanistan with troops and cash had expressed concern at the prospect of further delay, fearing it would fuel instability at a time of worsening insurgent violence.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also weighed in on Monday, saying the Western alliance needed a “timely opening of parliament” if it is to start handing over security responsibilities to Afghan forces in February or March.

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But Karzai and the lawmakers remain at odds over the fate of a special court set up by presidential decree to investigate the fraud-riddled September 18 election.

Karzai is believed to be unhappy about the poll results, which have left the assembly with a larger, more vocal and coherent opposition bloc than the last parliament.

Critics say the special court is designed to serve his political agenda rather than the interests of justice, and raises wider questions about his respect for rule of law.

Lawmakers, huddled in talks at Kabul’s Intercontinental hotel for the past three days, had threatened to open parliament on Wednesday regardless of the Supreme Court ruling, reviving fears of confrontation in the capital.

“We have been insulted and abused for long enough and we are not interested in knowing about the Supreme Court’s final decision,” said Farhad Azimi, a winning candidate from Balkh province.

Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Matt Robinson; Editing by Alastair Macdonald