Afghan parliament holds "confusing" session

Afghanistan's first popularly elected parliament in more than 30 years struggled with the business of government in its first full session Tuesday, haggling over procedural issues and failing to select leaders. The national assembly, which was inaugurated in an emotional ceremony on Monday, is this country's final step in its transition to democracy after the ouster four years ago of the hardline Taliban.

The country has had no elected national assembly since 1973, when coups and a Soviet invasion plunged it into decades of chaos that left more than 1 million people dead. The Taliban's disastrous rule ended in late 2001, when it was deposed by the U.S.-led invasion for sheltering Osama bin Laden.

The long parliamentary blank was apparent Tuesday, as the newly seated lawmakers haggled over procedural matters. The debate on how to select the bodies' leaders was to continue Wednesday.

"It's still a confusing situation," said Mirahammad Joinda, one of the delegates. "Everybody is backing their own side. It's not clear what will happen." The body has come under fire for including many regional strongmen, raising concerns over whether it can truly be a positive political force.

More than 30 delegates made statements before the assembly Tuesday. The session almost broke down at one point, when a delegate called for all of the human rights abusers and "criminal warlords" to be brought to justice.

Among those in the parliament with bloody pasts are Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a militia leader accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch, and Abdul Salaam Rocketi, a former Taliban commander who has since reconciled with the government.

Another winner was the former Taliban leader who oversaw the destruction of two huge 1,500-year-old Buddha statues during the fundamentalists' reign.

Afghans voted for the 249-seat lower house in September, and also elected provincial councils that then chose two-thirds of the 102-seat upper chamber. President Hamid Karzai appointed the remaining 34.

Most of the government's power is still concentrated in the hands of the president, although parliament will be able to pass laws and veto Cabinet selections, reports the AP. I.L.

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