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Afghanistan plans to open parliament on January 20

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan plans to inaugurate parliament on January 20, President Hamid Karzai’s chief spokesman said on Monday, more than four months after a parliamentary election marked by widespread fraud.

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai arrives at the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit in Astana December 1, 2010. The OSCE opened its summit in Kazakhstan's capital amid tight security on Wednesday to discuss issues ranging from Afghanistan to terrorism and drug trade. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Political turmoil has been simmering since the hotly disputed September 18 parliamentary ballot, with losing candidates holding street protests and tension rising over reports the attorney general’s office had asked for the vote to be annulled.

Allegations of fraud in the September ballot -- and in a presidential poll last year -- have raised questions about the credibility of Karzai and his government as a partner as U.S. and NATO leaders assess their long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

Final results from all 34 provinces were released on December 1 and poll officials had said late last month a new parliament could be formed within a week -- but there has been no attempt to convene the assembly.

“I think we can expect parliament will be inaugurated on the 20th of January ... the constitution requires the parliament be inaugurated on the 20th of January, after the period of winter break,” Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omer told a news conference.

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) has accused the attorney general’s office of “irresponsible statements” and warned of a political crisis after local media reported it had called for election results to be cancelled.

Fawzia Kufi, an outspoken parliamentarian from northeastern Badakhshan province, earlier said she and other members had met Karzai at his palace a week ago and asked him to open the new assembly.

“We told him it was the president’s responsibility to inaugurate parliament or appoint someone to do it,” Kufi told Reuters. “The president promised us he would inaugurate parliament by January 20.”

Kufi and around 100 other members gathered at the parliament last week and issued a three-point declaration, including a demand for Karzai to open parliament by December 19.

Karzai told Kufi he first had to appoint one-third of the members of the upper house -- whose terms have now expired -- and also needed more time to prepare for the ceremonial procedures involved in opening the assembly.

“It has been a long time since parliament was working and that is not good for the country but, as long as he says he will inaugurate it, then it is fine,” Kufi said.

She said Karzai had declined to comment on the reported calls by the attorney general’s office for the results to be cancelled. Kufi had accused the president last week of instigating efforts to have the poll annulled.

Until recently, parliament had largely acted as a rubber stamp, but it flexed its political muscle earlier this year when it rejected several of Karzai’s cabinet nominees.

Karzai is now likely to face a more vocal and coherent opposition than the previous chamber.

Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski