September's parliamentary polls were marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation [EPA]

Hundreds of newly elected Afghan members of parliament appear to be headed for a political confrontation with the country's president, having decided to hold the first session of the parliament on Sunday against his wishes.

More than 200 MPs said they would defy President Hamid Karzai by going ahead with the planned opening session of the new parliament on Sunday. Karzai had suggested that the session be postponed for a month so that a tribunal can contine investigating allegations of election fraud.

"If the police don't let us in the parliament, we can meet in the street, the road, there are open fields," Mohammad Akbari, a parliamentarian from Bamiyan province, said.

"We are against tension and protests, but we are the representatives of the Afghan people. The president cannot postpone parliament. We are in the right."

The decision by the MPs comes despite a call from the head of a special tribunal, set up in December, to look into more than 400 cases of alleged electoral fraud in September's parliamentary polls, for a delay of at least a month.

Sidiqullah Haqiq, the tribunal head, warned that his body could still rule in favour of recounts.

It is unclear if the tribunal, deemed unconstitutional by both the international community and the electoral bodies who organised and oversaw the election, has the authority to alter the result of any races.

International concern

The United Nation's mission in Afghanistan expressed its "deep concern and surprise" at the president's order for a delay.

In a statement released on Friday, the UN, the EU, the US, Canada and other nations said they continued to support a "reasonable, enduring and peaceful resolution to this issue" so that the Afghan parliament can convene "as soon as possible".

The parliament was set to start work on Sunday after an earlier investigation by an anti-fraud watchdog into the charges of irregularities.

That group discarded 1.3 million ballots, nearly a quarter of the total, and disqualified 19 winning candidates before final results were issued on November 24.

But Afghanistan's attorney general said the investigation had not been thorough enough and launched a new round of inquiries, which led the Supreme Court to create the special tribunal in late December.

As well as being hit by fraud and violence, the original parliamentary election resulted in a weak showing for the Pashtuns, Karzai's traditional power base and Afghanistan's biggest single ethnic group.

A free and fair election would have shown Karzai's commitment to fight cronyism and corruption a year after international criticism over a fraud-tainted presidential poll that led to his own re-election.

However, the parliamentary ballot, in which 2,500 contenders ran for 249 seats, was marred by allegations of fraud and voter intimidation.

Source: Agencies