Afghan opposition leader quits to support Karzai

The newly elected chairman of Afghanistan's parliament has said he will resign as leader of the opposition and will support U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai's efforts to rebuild the country after a quarter century of war. The announcement by Mohammad Yunus Qanuni at a press conference late Thursday was a major boost for Karzai, who hopes to form alliances between his government and rival ethnic and political factions in the legislature.

Qanuni was one of Karzai's primary political rivals, having finished second to him in the presidential elections in October last year. He resigned his post of education minister, which he was given by Karzai, so that he could challenge Karzai for the presidency. He was narrowly elected chairman of the assembly in a vote Wednesday.

"I cannot be the chief of the parliament and the chief of the opposition," Qanuni told reporters. "Several times, I said that if I became head of the parliament ... I would resign from being the chairman of the opposition party. Now, I am abiding by my promise." He said the new opposition leader would be Burhanuddin Rabbani, a fellow ethnic Tajik and former president during a destructive civil war in the 1990s. The two men are old friends and Rabbani withdrew his own candidacy for the chairmanship of the parliament last week in favor of the younger Qanuni.

"My belief is that the parliament of Afghanistan should support the positive policies of the government," Qanuni said. "In the national interest, the parliament, the judiciary and other arms of the government should cooperate. This cooperation will help the people of Afghanistan."

He said that in the past four years, since the Taliban was ousted in 2001, "there has been no change in the lives of the Afghan people," despite billions being spent on foreign aid.

The new parliament convened on Monday, three months after legislative elections. Afghanistan had no elected national assembly since 1973, after which coups and a Soviet invasion plunged the country into decades of chaos that killed than 1 million people. That period was followed by the rule of the Islamic extremist Taliban militia, reports the AP. I.L.

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