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Afghans select a new government

BONN, Germany, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Rival Afghan factions appointed Wednesday the first post-Taliban prime minister for their country and agreed to transfer power to the new interim government on Dec. 22.

A U.N. spokesman told journalists in Bonn, Germany, that a royalist ethnic Pashtun, Hamid Karzai, will head the new interim administration in Afghanistan.

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"The groups attending the conference have also endorsed a list of 29 people, to serve in the interim cabinet," said spokesman Ahmad Fawzi.

According to the agreement, Karzai will serve as chairman of an interim authority that will govern Afghanistan for six months. Once the new government, called the administrative council, completes its tenure, the United Nations will help arrange a grand tribal assembly to appoint another transitional government for a period of 18 months.

The former king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, is expected to participate in the assembly, though it is not clear if he will open it, as some of his supporters have called for.

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The next government will work with the United Nations to hold Afghanistan's first general elections in the next two years and transfer power to those elected.

If successful, it will be the first Afghan government in 23 years to assume power peacefully. Since the Soviet invasion of 1979, all Afghan rulers came through military coups or armed rebellions.

A total of 30 delegates attended the U.N.-sponsored talks, 11 each from the

Northern Alliance and the monarchists representing Zahir Shah. The remaining 12 represent Afghan refugees live in Pakistan and Iran.

The U.N.-brokered deal came on the ninth day of grueling talks and intense behind-the-scene-lobbying by senior U.N., U.S., and German officials. The final session went on all night in a luxury hotel in the former German capital and ended with all four delegations agreeing to sign a U.N. draft finalized after intense talks with Afghan delegates.

The United Nations brought the Afghan delegations to Bonn last Tuesday amid fears that factional fighting may once again engulf Afghanistan if a broad-based, interim government was not formed soon.

"There is a real joy and relief among the people attending the talks and those helping it from the sidelines. It brought tears of joy to everybody's eyes, also to my eyes," said Fawzi, a spokesman for the United Nations special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi.

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Karzai, who is guiding a military operation against the last Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, told journalists that he is still waiting for the official confirmation. "But I am glad to be entrusted with this task. It is a great responsibility. Restoring peace will be my first priority. I will also try to unite the Afghans."

Fawzi said that U.N. officials are trying to get in touch with all 30 members of the interim government, including Karzai, to seek their approval. "We have already informed 19 who have agreed to participate."

The Northern Alliance, which has controlled Kabul since the Taliban fled last month, keeps the three most powerful ministries of interior, defense and foreign affairs.

Two women are among those named, including Seema Samar, a delegate attending the talks. She will be one of the five deputies to Karzai.

Restoring women's rights, curtailed by the Taliban, was one of the conditions set forth by the United Nations for the new interim government. It has also been asked to guarantee freedom of expression.

The four factions attending the conference had initially named 150 people for the administrative council and 30 were chosen. While selecting the members of the council, U.N. officials have tried to give representation to all ethnic and religious groups living in Afghanistan.

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The factions had endorsed a mechanism for their selection on Monday after hearing from the Northern Alliance that it is willing to accept the U.N.-brokered deal.

The United Nations also has agreed to establish a supreme court in Kabul to give a prominent role to Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani who feared being sidelined by the new administration.

The U.N. text also proposes a multinational peacekeeping force for Kabul, but does not stipulate the force's size, mandate or duration.

The text says peacekeepers would be deployed at the Afghan administration's request.

Donor nations had threatened to withhold billions of dollars of aid for rebuilding Afghanistan until a broad-based government was formed.

Rabbani tried to delay an agreement by insisting that "the new Afghan government should be formed in Afghanistan."

He also proposed an alternative leadership council and suggested that he should be accepted, as Afghanistan's president for a period of six months and the proposed interim administration, including its chairman, should work under him.

Several telephone calls to Rabbani by the U.S. special envoy on Afghanistan, James Dobbins, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, and U.N. special envoy for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, finally forced the alliance leader to give in.

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At an emergency meeting of the alliance's leadership council on Tuesday, Rabbani agreed to endorse the U.N. plan and name his representatives to the proposed administrative council.

He also softened his resistance to the U.N. proposal for deploying a peacekeeping

force in Kabul but has not yet responded to another proposal for giving a symbolic

role to the ex-king in the new administration.

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