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Karzai agrees to delay elections

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
Mr Karzai's opponents accuse him of extreme tactics to hold on to power

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai says he now accepts that his country's presidential election should be postponed from April to August.

Mr Karzai's term in office runs out on 21 May, but he now says he will not step down until elections are held.

The poll is due to be held by April but the Independent Election Commission says it must be delayed because of security and logistical problems.

Correspondents say Mr Karzai's rivals will almost certainly cry foul.

President Karzai had previously insisted that the election should go ahead in April as originally scheduled.

As long as there is no election, the president will stay in office
Hamid Karzai

But in a news conference on Saturday, he said he now accepted a ruling by the election commission three days ago to delay the vote until 20 August.

He added: "As long as there is no election, the president will stay in office," reported news agency Reuters.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says this is not enshrined in Afghanistan's constitution and it may fuel further protests from Mr Karzai's opponents.

They have already accused the president of trying to hold on to power illegally and called for him to step down.

Implacable

US troops at Bagram air base, Afghanistan
A worsening security situation has prompted fears for the elections

They back the creation of an interim administration - but Mr Karzai counters that such a transitional body is similarly not envisaged in the constitution.

Mr Karzai says he wants "national consultations" to resolve the impasse, says our correspondent, but it is far from clear that this will be acceptable to his critics.

There is the possibility that other interested nations could intervene and broker an interim resolution.

But with both sides offering implacable and contrary positions, there is the risk that this could spill out into the streets in the form of protests or worse, our correspondent adds.

The US supports the August election date, as the 17,000 extra troops it is sending to Afghanistan will by then be in place to combat a growing Taleban insurgency in the south.



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