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Afghan parliament to defy Karzai's postponement order

By Josh Boak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 2:11 AM

KABUL - The new Afghan parliament decided Thursday to convene as planned at the start of next week, in a defiant response to President Hamid Karzai ordering the opening session postponed by a month.

The inaugural meeting of parliament, initially scheduled for Sunday, will test a relationship between Karzai and the country's elected representatives that has become strained enough to threaten the government's stability.

Karzai on Wednesday announced a delay of the opening so that a special court he established could finish investigating the September parliamentary elections. Candidates running in southern Afghanistan claimed that violence and fraud stopped Pashtun voters - a prime Karzai constituency - from going to the polls.

Karzai was himself reelected in 2009 amid evidence of ballot stuffing. Afghan law requires him to attend the first meeting of parliament.

On Thursday, 213 of the 249 elected parliament members attended a meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, where they expressed their desire to go forward. Some members, such as Shukria Barakzai, said the move could cause the president to reverse his decision and attend the inauguration. Others said they are prepared to rewrite the law if Karzai doesn't show up.

The members of parliament said that individual investigations should not interrupt the work of the entire legislative branch.

"This is a democratic process," said Mirwais Yasini, a member of parliament from Nangarhar province who is running for speaker. "We don't want to leave it sabotaged."

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