Western countries with troops serving in Afghanistan are anxious for Karzai to put his new government in place and build the institutions needed to withstand the armed Taliban opposition, with whom fighting is now fiercer than at any time in the eight-year-old war.

Before breaking, lawmakers also demanded reforms for parliamentary elections due this year - setting the country back on a path towards political confrontation after the disputed presidential poll last year.

Caretakers

Haseeb Noori, parliament spokesman, said MPs would now leave for a recess until February 20. They had postponed their leave earlier this month to allow Karzai to pick new names after rejecting more than two thirds of his initial picks, and vetoed more than half of his proposed replacements on Saturday.

Waheed Omer, Karzai's spokesman, said the president would nominate new candidates for the vacant seats when lthe MPs return. Until then, Karzai would direct deputy ministers or other caretaker figures to run their ministries, Omer said.

Karzai's re-election has damaged his standing at home and abroad, and led to months of drift. He and his allies are hoping to turn the page on that uncertainty in 2010.

Omer said Karzai had told Richard Holbrooke, the visiting US enovy, on Saturday that the parliamentary election must be held on time on May 22, a date many Western officials fear is too soon to enact needed reforms in time.

Parliamentarians discussed the election in their final debate on Sunday, backing the May 22 date but calling for reforms to the election commission, which Karzai's opponents blame for fraud.