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Afghan President Insists on Staying in Power Until Elections

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accepted the election commission's ruling to hold the presidential vote in late August despite his proposal to move-up the poll to April. While his opponents are demanding he resign on schedule in May, Mr. Karzai indicated he plans to remain in office until the vote.

Mr. Karzai and his political opponents have sparred for several months over when the presidential election should be held and what Mr. Karzai will do after his term officially expires on May 21.

His rivals say they want parliament to choose an interim president who will hold power between the end of Mr. Karzai's term and the August elections.

But in a news conference on Saturday in Kabul, the president dismissed suggestions he should step down before the poll.

He says this issue is solved and he will remain in power until the election. He also pledged not to delay the election any further.

His opponents have complained that President Karzai will have an unfair advantage as incumbent in the August polls and they have suggested he will abuse his power to tip the election in his favor.

The president did not directly address those concerns Saturday, and instead called on politicians to agree on the August poll date, put aside their complaints, and begin campaigning.

"Now it looks like we are all seeking national consensus," he said. "National consensus is the right thing to do if they don't agree to that, then let's go back to the constitution."

Afghanistan's election commission ruled last week that holding elections in April in accordance with the constitution is not possible because of security and logistical concerns.

U.S. and U.N. officials supported the ruling - saying that August is the best date for ensuring safe, fair and credible elections. But U.S. officials have also called on Afghan lawmakers to find a constitutional way to ensure the government remains stable between May and the elections.

It remains unclear if Mr. Karzai's opponents will drop their demands for him to resign before the vote.

Meanwhile, officials in Iran say they are considering a U.S. invitation to participate in an international conference on Afghanistan at the end of March. A government spokesman told reporters in Tehran that Iran is ready to offer any help to its neighbor.

This week U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States wants to organize a meeting on Afghanistan that includes all interested parties in the country. She said Iran would be invited as a neighbor of Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has focused on organizing a new regional effort to counter the growing violence in Afghanistan. In recent weeks Pakistani and Afghan representatives have held several meetings with U.S. officials to discuss strategies and policies.