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Loya Jirga Assembly Opens Amid Confusion, Political Tension

BY Admin  June 11, 2002 at 6:08 PM EDT

Afghanistan’s former king Mohammad Zaher Shah, who was deposed in 1973 after 40 years on the throne, attended the meeting with interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai. A political rift between supporters of the two men, coupled with logistical problems, had forced a one-day postponement of the council’s opening session.

The dispute subsided after Zaher Shah announced during opening ceremonies he would not seek an official role in the government and threw his support behind Karzai. The former Afghan king could have posed a strong challenge against Karzai in the loya jirga vote.

“I am ready to help the people, and Hamid Karzai is my choice of candidate,” Zaher Shah told the nearly 1,550 delegates in his scheduled opening remarks. “I advise delegates to take into consideration the high interests of the people.”

Confusion arose when Karzai and his staff mistakenly concluded the applause following the ex-monarch’s address meant Karzai had been elected president, his spokesman later told reporters.

Shortly after the former king’s speech, Karzai told a Reuters correspondent that he had won the loya jirga vote, although no votes were actually counted.

Upon hearing Karzai’s announcement, supporters of the ex-king angrily expressed their suspicion that the election had been rigged in favor of the interim prime minister with the help of Western nations.

Karzai spokesman Yousuf Nooristani later clarified the error.

“The situation was confusing for us,” Nooristani told Reuters. “Karzai thought the audience applause meant they were voting for him. Later he found out it was a mistake.”

Nooristani said he believed the loya jirga would vote on a new prime minister on Wednesday.

Former President Burhanuddin Rabbani also withdrew his candidacy and announced his support for Karzai.

The winner of the loya jirga vote will lead Afghanistan until the country holds elections in 18 months and will oversee the disbursal of billions of international aid and the writing of the new constitution.

The council is expected to adjourn June 16.