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Afghan Lawmakers Deny Karzai More Influence on Election Watchdog


Afghan lawmakers have rejected a bid by President Hamid Karzai to tighten his control over a key election watchdog commission.

Lawmakers in parliament's lower house voted down a proposal to allow Mr. Karzai to appoint three of the five members of the Electoral Complaint Commission. That commission played a key role in throwing out fraudulent ballots in Afghanistan's presidential election last year. Most of the rejected ballots benefited Mr. Karzai.

In recent months Mr. Karzai has sought greater control over the body, which has drawn criticism from Washington and other NATO allies.

The president earlier backed away from a plan to appoint all five commission members and agreed to allow two foreigners to serve. In the last election, three of the five members were foreigners.

Meanwhile, authorities say at least 13 people have been killed in a bombing in southern Afghanistan.

The attack took place Wednesday in the Nahr-e-Sarraj district near Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. NATO said its helicopters evacuated at least 40 of the wounded to hospitals.

Afghan officials say the bomb exploded as people gathered to receive free seeds as part of a program aimed at discouraging farmers from growing opium poppy.

A provincial government spokesman said earlier the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber, but the Interior Ministry said the bomb was attached to a bicycle.

U.S.-led NATO troops and Afghan forces have been clearing Taliban insurgents in Helmand's Marjah region since February, and are getting ready to begin an offensive in neighboring Kandahar in the coming months.

On Wednesday, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, told reporters in Kabul that taking control of Kandahar is key to reversing the momentum of the Taliban.

He also said that U.S. officials have evidence that Iran is increasingly becoming a negative influence in Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen said U.S. officials have evidence about a shipment of weapons from Iran to Kandahar.

The United States has frequently accused Iran of providing assistance to insurgents in Afghanistan, but Tehran is believed to play a greater role in the conflict in Iraq. Iranian authorities have denied supporting any Afghan insurgent groups. They contend the presence of foreign troops has a greater destabilizing effect on Afghanistan.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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