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Monday, 10 June, 2002, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Afghan loya jirga opening delayed
Police check a car
Security is tight ahead of the meeting
A meeting of Afghanistan's loya jirga, the traditional assembly that will select a new transitional government and head of state, has been delayed until Tuesday.


What the majority decides about the future of Afghanistan and my role, I will accept

Former King Zahir Shah

The gathering of more than 1,500 delegates - in a giant tent on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul - had been due to begin on Monday.

A spokesman for the foreign ministry said the meeting would now open at 1500 (1030 GMT) on Tuesday "due to logistical and preparation work which was not completed on time".

But the BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says that political disputes are the more likely reason for the hold-up, as Afghanistan's politicians continue last-minute negotiations to try to strike deals before the meeting formally gets under way.

Royalist support

The leaders, who are chosen by the locally-selected representatives, will steer a transitional regime until democratic elections are held in 2004.

In the run-up to the meeting, disagreement over the role of the former king, Zahir Shah, and the distribution of key ministries is reported to have sharpened.

Loya jirga
1,450 delegates
1,051 elected members
Guaranteed seats for 160 women
53 seats for current government
100 seats for Afghan refugees and six for internally displaced Afghans
25 seats for nomads
Mr Shah - who will inaugurate the loya jirga - has said he does not want to restore the monarchy and has given his backing to the current interim Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai, in his bid to stay on as the head of state.

The 87-year-old former king is expected to be granted the role of father of the nation by the loya jirga, though he has said he would accept a different post if that was the will of the people.

"It's very natural that I accept the loya jirga because it forms the basis of Afghan society... What the majority decides about the future of Afghanistan and my role, I will accept," he said in a BBC interview.

There has been a groundswell of popular support for the former king amid fears that the ethnic tensions which have blighted Afghanistan's history will also dominate the new government.

So far only Mr Karzai and the former President, Burhanuddin Rabbani, have put their names forward as head of state.

Compromise deals are also threatened by apparent indecision within the current ruling faction, Shora-i-Nazar, about whether to give up control of key ministries.

These include the ministries of foreign affairs, defence, interior and intelligence.

Dirty campaign

Security was tight as the delegates arrived for the meeting, amid concerns that dissenting factions could try to disrupt the assembly.

Woman delegate
Women will have a say in Afghanistan's future
The International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) is patrolling the capital, and a cordon has been put round the German beer tent, brought in especially to house the meeting.

The security arrangements, as well as the time required to process each delegate's application and run identity checks, have been partly blamed for the delay.

"Bringing people in, processing their applications... identification, and then putting them in various dormitories - all these are major logistical challenges," said senior Afghan government advisor Ashraf Ghani.

However, delegates are said to be pleased by the hold-up, which gives them time for discussion and political manoeuvre before the official proceedings begin.

But the reports of secret deals, as well as threats and bribes, have caused concern about the integrity of the meeting.

"People say they have learned their lessons but they haven't learned any lessons. Everyone just wants power. Now they will try to hold on to power, and there will be fighting again," said Kabul businessman Musa Jan.

But some delegates were nonetheless enthused about the process.

"I am really excited," said Adeena Niazi, one of the 160 women delegates, representing Afghan exiles in Canada.

"Finally, I have a voice in determining Afghanistan's future".

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Failure here could send the country back into chaos"
UN representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi
"There are very high expectations across the country"
Former King of Afghanistan Zahir Shah
"What I can do all depends on the will of the people"

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09 Jun 02 | South Asia
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