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Afghan Presidential Poll Postponed Until August

Afghanistan's election commission has scheduled the presidential election for August 20, months later than the date called for in the Afghan constitution. Afghan officials say the delay will give more time for the arrival of additional foreign troops, to improve security.

Afghanistan's constitution calls for the presidential poll to be held in late April, before President Hamid Karzai's five-year term expires. But officials have worried that ongoing violence and the harsh winter would make preparations difficult.

The head of the Afghan election commission, Azizullah Lodin, told reporters in Kabul, Thursday, that after speaking with Afghan and foreign security forces, officials decided delaying the election by a few months would improve conditions for the vote.

He says the election commission decided the presidential election and the provincial polls would be held on August 20. He says officials will decide, later, when to hold district and parliament elections.

Mr. Karzai's political opponents -- some of whom are running against him in the upcoming election -- have pushed for elections on schedule and insist delaying the poll is unconstitutional. Some say the president should step down after his presidential term expires, in late May.

NATO officials praised the new election date, saying it should allow foreign troops time to improve security and help register voters. American officials have proposed nearly doubling the 32-thousand American troops in Afghanistan, in the next six months.

Many of those troops are headed to southern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold and one of the most violent areas of the country. The region is also Mr. Karzai's political base and considered key to his re-election effort.

No clear frontrunner has emerged from the several political opponents who are considering challenging him for the presidency. Mr. Karzai remains the country's highest-profile leader. However, after five years presiding over a weak central government, plagued by corruption, analysts say he could be politically vulnerable to a coalition of his opponents.