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Karzai accepts elections for August 20

Video by Nicolas RUSWORTH

Latest update : 2009-03-07

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said presidential elections will go ahead on August 20, after insisting last week that they should take place in April. The UN, USA and Afghan allies have all said April elections would be logistically impossible.

REUTERS - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Saturday he would stay in office until elections are held whether that was in August as dictated by the national consensus or in April as proscribed by the constitution.

The young Afghan democracy has been thrown into turmoil by the constitution dispute which can only undermine faith in the system itself as it struggles to combat a resilient Taliban insurgency that is growing in both size and scope.

Karzai said above all he wants to respect the constitution which states his term ends on May 21, after elections are held.

But the election commission says polls cannot be held until Aug. 20 as they could not be organised during the winter and extra security forces cannot be in place until then.

"As long as there is no election, the president will stay in office," Karzai said. The constitution made no reference to an interim leader demanded by opposition leaders to replace Karzai between May and August, he said.

The president said the national consensus was for polls to be held in August and opposition leaders either had to accept that or accept polls next month.

"I am calling for all sides to agree on the national consensus. We must respect the national consensus and stand by it and let the commission prepare for the election," he said.

The United States supports the August election date by when the 17,000 extra troops it is sending to Afghanistan to help secure the polls will be in place across the volatile south.

The election is the key test of progress for Afghanistan this year, diplomats say, and if the polls are carried out successfully they will eclipse any other failures and if they fail will eclipse any other successes in the war-torn country.

Many of Karzai's rivals worry the president is preparing to use the power of government to gain an unfair advantage in the poll and either want him to stand aside in May or give some concrete guarantee he will not use his office to campaign.

Rising insecurity and rampant corruption have left Karzai increasingly unpopular, but with many deals still being cut behind the scenes between the country's political power brokers, a second term remains a possibility

Date created : 2009-03-07