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Protests at Afghan Debate; Ethnic Divisions Exposed

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  • Mike Lee
    [Excerpt: The Loya Jirga had been scheduled to last for 10 days, but behind-the-scenes wrangling and protests during sessions inside the tent have dragged the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 1, 2004
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      [Excerpt: The Loya Jirga had been scheduled to last for 10 days, but
      behind-the-scenes wrangling and protests during sessions inside the tent
      have dragged the assembly into its 18th day.....Northern Alliance
      sympathizers took the podium to complain that key proposals agreed by a
      reconciliation commission prior to voting had been ignored, including
      one to hold presidential and parliamentary elections
      simultaneously....."These events are moving us toward national dissent,"
      warned one delegate, identified only as Yunuzi.]

      http://64.94.180.107/newsArticle.jhtml;jsessionid=H502YDEC0UPA4CRBAE0CFEY?type=worldNews&storyID=4063309Protests


      Protests at Afghan Debate; Ethnic Divisions Exposed
      Thu January 1, 2004 08:51 AM ET

      By Sayed Salahuddin

      KABUL (Reuters) - Up to a quarter of the 502 delegates thrashing out a
      new Afghan constitution refused to vote Thursday, as ethnic divisions
      threatened to undermine a draft charter backed by the United States.

      After lengthy delays, men and women from across the country lined up to
      begin voting inside a giant tent on a Kabul college campus on proposed
      amendments to the 160-article draft document, including one giving women
      more seats in parliament.

      The draft outlines a strong presidential system with a limited role for
      parliament. It would make Islam the official religion but without the
      Islamic sharia law enforced by the hard-line Taliban regime toppled from
      power two years ago.

      Interim leader Hamid Karzai has endorsed the draft, as have supporters
      in Washington who want to see him run for president in elections in
      June. Karzai argues that a strong presidency is needed to rebuild the
      country after two decades of civil strife.

      But his opponents at the constitutional Loya Jirga, or Grand Assembly,
      have criticized the process, saying it threatens to create an autocratic
      political system that sidelines minority groups such as the Tajiks,
      Uzbeks and Hazaras.

      Karzai is from the largest ethnic group, the Pashtuns, and the
      constitution could return the group to its traditional position at the
      center of power. Afghanistan's ethnic fault lines have been dangerously
      exposed by the assembly, Western diplomats warned.

      "I am ... concerned that there is an ethnic polarization that was
      unnecessary that could be, if allowed to continue, very damaging," said
      the EU's envoy to Afghanistan Francesc Vendrell. He added he hoped it
      was a "temporary explosion."

      OPPONENTS REFUSE TO VOTE

      Opposition to Karzai has been led by former President Burhanuddin
      Rabbani, Uzbek strongman Abdul Rashid Dostum and Islamic conservative
      Abdul Rab Rasul Sayyaf.

      All are linked to the Northern Alliance, a faction of mainly Tajiks that
      helped the United States topple the Taliban in 2001. None of the three
      leaders was seen casting a ballot on Thursday.

      Delegates voted on amendments governing presidential powers, whether
      minority languages would be given national status and if more seats in
      parliament should be reserved for women and nomads.


      They were also deciding whether to give provincial assemblies, not the
      president, power to propose candidates for governor.

      Results of the vote were not made public as expected by the end of the
      day Thursday, and no explanation was given.

      Delegates said talks between rival groups would be held on Friday, the
      Muslim day of rest, with the full assembly reconvening Saturday.

      The Loya Jirga had been scheduled to last for 10 days, but
      behind-the-scenes wrangling and protests during sessions inside the tent
      have dragged the assembly into its 18th day.

      Northern Alliance sympathizers took the podium to complain that key
      proposals agreed by a reconciliation commission prior to voting had been
      ignored, including one to hold presidential and parliamentary elections
      simultaneously.

      "These events are moving us toward national dissent," warned one
      delegate, identified only as Yunuzi.

      Karzai's opponents appeared to have won one concession. Demands that
      cabinet members give up dual citizenship could now go to a vote,
      potentially affecting the highly respected finance and interior ministers.

      Any sizeable boycott will damage Karzai's credibility within his
      country, although Western observers believe he has enough support to win
      the simple majority needed to pass the document.
      enditem
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