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Karzai unsure if he Afghan president after May

world Updated: Feb 10, 2009 22:08 IST

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai said on Tuesday he was not sure whether his term in office would legally end before elections set for August, but he was working to ensure his government retained its legitimacy.

Karzai has run Afghanistan since US-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 for harbouring al Qaeda, first as head of a transitional government, then after elections in 2004 as president.

According to the constitution, presidential elections must be held by May 21 this year, but the electoral law gives the president a five-year term, meaning Karzai's term will end either in October, five years after he won the last election, or December, five years after he was sworn into office.

"I don't know whether my duty ends on May 21 or in December," Karzai told a news conference. "I'm consulting on this issue and I will appear and announce my decision."

In any case, the election commission has set Aug. 20 as the poll date, saying the law allows for a postponement.

The delay was announced last year as a Spring poll would have to be organised during the harsh Afghan winter when remote areas are cut off by snow and many people would be disenfranchised.

The August election will also give time for planned U.S. troop reinforcements to be deployed and try to secure the poll in the face of the rising Taliban insurgency.

But some opposition politicians have called into question the legitimacy of Karzai staying in office after May 21.

"The most important task for me these days is the legitimacy of the government, the legitimacy of the presidency of Afghanistan and the continuation of my service must be legitimate," Karzai said.

Karzai and a number of former ministers have hinted they will run in the elections, but the president has lost a great deal of popularity at home and among his Western backers due to widespread corruption and rising violence.

U.S. President Barack Obama and European allies have called for better governance in Afghanistan -- implied criticism of Karzai's ability to govern effectively especially in the provinces.

Karzai, for his part, has also hit back at the United States and its NATO allies strongly warning them they must stop mistakenly killing Afghan civilians in air strikes.