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Afghanistan

Karzai insists Afghan military can handle security in final parliament speech

Afghanistan's departing president, Hamid Karzai, has targeted the US during his final address to parliament in Kabul. Karzai said Afghan troops no longer needed international help to defend the country.

Karzai, whose final term in office expires after next month's presidential elections, told parliamentarians during an hour-long speech on Saturday that Afghanistan's soldiers were now ready to entirely take over security in the country, after the final withdrawal of US and NATO troops later this year. Afghan troops currently protect 93 percent of the country.

Karzai reiterated his stance that peace must first be established in Afghanistan before he signed a security pact with Washington, that would allow a residual force force to remain behind. That force would mentor and train Afghan troops, while other US special forces would stay to track down al Qaeda.

A council of Afghan dignitaries that Karzai convened himself recommended last year the president sign the pact, known as the Bilateral Security Agreement, and all 10 candidates seeking the presidency in the April 5 elections have said they would sign it.

Warning against interference

Karzai called on foreign nations not to "interfere" in the election process, and pledged transparency.

"I want to say to all those foreign countries who maybe out of habit or because they want to interfere, that they should not interfere," Karzai said.

"The government will use all its power to ensure the coming presidential council elections are free, fair and transparent. The Afghan national security forces will provide a secure environment for Afghans to take part in the process."

Karzai also said the war in Afghanistan was "imposed" on his nation, a reference to the US-led invasion, now in its 13th year, which ousted the Taliban. He also called on the Taliban to join the peace process, and accused Pakistan of protecting the group's leadership.

The president also spoke of highlights during his term in office, saying schools were functioning, the rights of women had improved, and the Afghan currency had stabilized.

"I know the future president will protect these gains and priorities and will do the best for peace in the country and I, as an Afghan citizen, will support peace and will cooperate."

Karzai came to power in December 2001 in an international agreement signed in Bonn, Germany, and was then confirmed by a council of Afghan nobles. He subsequently won two presidential elections.

jr/slk (AP, dpa)

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