Page last updated at 19:37 GMT, Sunday, 29 March 2009 20:37 UK

Afghan leader 'can stay in power'

Hamid Karzai at Kabul news conference - 26/3/2009
Karzai had insisted his mandate should be extended until the vote

Afghanistan's Supreme Court has ruled President Hamid Karzai may stay in office until a new leader is elected later this year.

The country's constitution stipulates his term should expire on 21 May.

Mr Karzai's spokesman said he had accepted the decision and would follow the court's instructions.

Elections were due next month, but the country's electoral commission says they should be delayed until August due to security concerns.

This is an important victory for Hamid Karzai, who had insisted that his mandate should be extended until the election, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul.

The Supreme Court ruling said: "The continuation of the president and his deputies is in the interests of the people of Afghanistan."

Shrewd moves

Mr Karzai's spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said the president had received and would follow the court's decision.

"Continuation means ensuring stability and the fact that the Supreme Court has issued a judgement ensures his legitimacy," he said, quoted by AFP news agency.

Last week the US government indicated it, too, would support Mr Karzai's bid to stay in power until the elections are held.

This would appear to stave off the threat of a constitutional crisis, our correspondent says, although it remains to be seen how the opposition will respond.

Hamid Karzai has made a series of shrewd moves that have outwitted his critics and improved his chances of winning another term as president of Afghanistan, our correspondent adds.

He has gone from being beleaguered, estranged from his American sponsors just a few weeks ago, to looking like the candidate to beat in the August election.

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