Karzai agrees to foreigners on election body

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has agreed to let two non-Afghans join the country's elections watchdog ahead of September polls, a spokesman said Saturday after pressure from Western backers.

Last month the US-backed leader amended a law to give himself full control of the Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC), stripping the United Nations of authority to pick three of the body's five members.

The decision prompted sharp criticism from the international community, particularly the United Nations. The commission played a major role in rooting out fraud in last year's corruption-tainted presidential poll.

"The law that was passed is clear in stating that the commission is comprised of five Afghan members," Waheed Omar, Karzai's senior spokesman, told a press conference.

But "the government of Afghanistan has declared its readiness to accept two non-Afghan members" for the body ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections, he said.

"We're in a transitional phase of Afghanisation of the process.

"This (is) exclusively for the upcoming parliamentary elections," he added.

Afghanistan will hold its second post-Taliban parliamentary elections in September. The polls were originally planned for this spring but were delayed due to security concerns and a shortage of funds.

Last year's presidential polls were mired in widespread fraud, mostly favouring Karzai, who was declared winner only after his main rival pulled out of a run-off.

Under the old electoral law, three of the five members of the ECC were appointed by the United Nations. During last August's polls, the body declared half a million votes cast for Karzai invalid.