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Karzai seeks quick accord on Afghan constitution
( 2003-12-10 17:18) (Agencies)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed to delegates to this weekend's Loya Jirga to reach a quick agreement on a new constitution with a strong presidency to guide the country to its first elections next year.

Speaking to reporters at his heavily fortified presidential palace in Kabul Wednesday, Karzai also repeated that he would not stand in future elections if the Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, opted for a prime minister as well as a president.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai appealed to delegates to this weekend's Loya Jirga to reach a quick agreement on a new constitution with a strong presidency to guide the country to its first elections next year. Karzai is shown inspecting an honor guard before special Eid al-Fitr prayers at the presidential palace in Kabul on Nov. 25, 2003.  [Reuters]
A draft constitution will be presented to delegates at the meeting starting in Kabul Saturday. It calls for a strong presidency with powers critics say border on the dictatorial.

"In countries where there are no strong institutions, where the remnants of conflict are still there, we need a system with one centrality, not many centers of power," Karzai said.

"My wish from Loya Jirga representatives is that they work for national unity, the national benefit, and establish a consolidated national governing regime and stable conditions in the country."

He pointed to the example of Sri Lanka, a country experiencing a feud between the president and prime minister.

The Jamiat-e-Islami faction of powerful Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim, a rival of Karzai, is keen to see a prime ministerial system with Fahim in the post. Karzai said he would not stand for election if there was such a system.

"If there is a presidential system, then I would be a candidate," he said.


The Loya Jirga had been expected to last several weeks, but Karzai said he hoped it could be concluded in a week to 10 days as every extra day cost the country $50,000.

It was supposed to start Wednesday, but officials say it was postponed due to difficulties faced by some of the 500 delegates in reaching Kabul from remote parts of the country.

However, some sources say Karzai has been having to work harder than expected to convince delegates to back the already published draft constitution.

Critics say the draft was drawn up in a hurry without a adequate process of popular consultation. But Karzai said the Loya Jirga would have the right to decide on changes.

The draft seeks to unite a war-torn nation under the banner of Islam, but Islamists say its religious stipulations are too vague.

In an interview with Reuters Tuesday, U.S. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi predicted a "difficult" debate.

"But I hope that ultimately they will come out not only with a constitution but with a constitution that will take the people of Afghanistan forward," he said.

Brahimi also said that if the government and its U.S.-led backers managed to improve security around the country it would be possible to hold presidential polls, supposed to be held in June, "by the end of next summer."

If not, he added, they should be further delayed.

Guerrillas fighting to restore Afghanistan's ousted Taliban rulers have denounced the assembly as a "charade" staged by U.S. occupiers. They have threatened to step up attacks ahead of the meeting and said anyone attending deserves to die.

U.S. ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Tuesday he expects the Taliban and allied militants to do their best to disrupt proceedings. But he said the assembly would go ahead with authorities "very focused" to ensure security.

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