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Afghanistan inaugurates new parliament

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The inauguration ends a political standoff between President Hamid Karzai and parliament
  • Karzai had delayed seating parliament so a special court could review election complaints
  • White House praises inauguration as "significant milestone"

(CNN) -- Afghanistan's new parliament was inaugurated in Kabul on Wednesday, four months after a nationwide election that critics said was marked by extensive fraud.

The inauguration ended a political standoff between President Hamid Karzai and the parliament.

Karzai announced the inauguration on Monday, after Afghanistan's Supreme Court sent word that it would not intercede in the seating of parliament following a deal between Karzai and the parliament over prosecuting crimes arising from last year's elections.

Karzai had refused to swear in the new parliament until an electoral court he established in December can review complaints from losing candidates. He had refused two previous calls by lawmakers to dissolve the court, which members of the National Assembly say is unconstitutional.

The deal between Karzai and the parliament says criminal cases stemming from the election will be prosecuted based on Afghanistan's constitution and election laws and that members of parliament would retain their immunity. It drops references to a "special court."

The United States praised Wednesday's inauguration.

"The seating of parliament is a significant milestone in the progression of Afghanistan's democracy and an extremely important moment for Afghans who bravely cast their votes last September," said White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer in a statement.

"The constructive debate and co-operation between Afghanistan's Office of the President and the recently elected members of Parliament demonstrates the Afghan commitment to ensuring that the will of the Afghan people is carried out and democratic principles are prioritized," Hammer said.

The U.S. State Department also applauded the inauguration.

"We commend the voters, in particular, who have steadfastly and courageously supported peace and democracy despite tremendous challenges," said State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley.

Last week, Karzai's office announced a one-month delay in inaugurating parliamentary members, saying the special court on election fraud needed more time to investigate complaints from losing candidates. The decision drew criticism from the U.N. mission in Afghanistan and concern from analysts that it could spark ethnic divisions and more violence.

Afghanistan's existing electoral bodies, the Independent Electoral Commission and Election Complaint Commission, have reviewed the results of last year's election. In November, the Electoral Complaint Commission threw out more than 1 million ballots from about 3,000 polling stations because of suspected fraud.

 
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