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Afghan parliament members sworn in amid outcry by dismissed lawmakers

By Sayed Salahuddin and Ernesto Londoño,

KABUL — Afghan security forces blocked nine dismissed lawmakers from entering parliament Saturday as some of their replacements were ushered in to take the oath of office.

Supporters of the lawmakers, who were ousted over allegations of fraud in last year’s election, called the move a “coup” engineered by President Hamid Karzai.

“With the support of the people, we will use political and civil means to stand against the coup of Mr. Karzai and this coup will be doomed,” said lawmaker Ahmad Behzad, a deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament who was among the lawmakers who decried Saturday’s events.

Last September’s parliamentary elections were seen as a key test of Afghanistan’s ability to uphold democratic principles and root out corruption at a time when the international community was starting to disengage. But widespread allegations of fraud and violence kept thousands of voters from casting ballots.

Despite the problems, the country’s election commission certified the 249 winners weeks after the election. A special court appointed by Karzai to review allegations of fraud in certain districts ruled this year that 62 lawmakers should be removed — a decision widely condemned by Western officials and some Afghans. Last month, the election commission agreed to sign off on the dismissal of just nine of those lawmakers.

Behzad and other critics of the palace say Karzai abused the judicial system to get more allies into parliament so the legislative branch would rubber-stamp his initiatives.

Soldiers stationed outside the heavily guarded compound were given the names and photographs of the banned politicians to ensure none slipped in. A spokesman for Karzai said security forces were simply maintaining order by keeping the ousted lawmakers away.

“There is no crisis in parliament,” palace spokesman Siamak Herawi said. “Law enforcement officials are performing their legal duty and will deter those who want to provoke the people.”

Meanwhile, NATO officials said Saturday that a former Guantanamo detainee who allegedly became an al-Qaeda affiliate after being released in 2007 was fatally shot during a raid Friday.

Sabar Lal Melma, who spent five years in U.S. custody, was involved in planning and financing attacks in eastern Kunar province, NATO officials said in a statement.

NATO troops shot Melma after he brandished an AK-47 as soldiers approached his home in Jalalabad, east of Kabul, NATO officials said.

Salahuddin is a special correspondent.

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