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    Mujaddedi to chair Loya Jirga

    KABUL (PAN): The chairman, his two deputies, as many secretaries and a spokesperson for the traditional Loya Jirga on the strategic cooperation pact were appointed on Wednesday.

    Senator and ex-president Sibghatullah Mujaddedi was named the head of the Loya Jirga and Advisor to President on Islamic Affairs Niamatullah Shahrani as first deputy chairman.

    Presidential Advisor on Tribal Affairs Mohammad Arif Noorzai was appointed as second deputy chairman, with First Deputy Chairman of Meshrano Jirga Mohammad Alam Yazidyar and Hayatullah Belaghi chosen as secretaries.

    Safia Siddiqui was named as spokeswoman for the four-day jirga. The deputy chairmen, secretaries and spokesperson were proposed by Mujaddedi and approved by participants.

    Set to confer on the strategic partnership agreement with the US and set up a mechanism for peace talks with Afghan militants, the assembly commenced amid tight security at 10:30am in capital Kabul.

    Preparatory commission head, Mohammad Sadiq Mudabir, said participants of the two-session jirga would be divided into 40 working committees.

    On Tuesday, the Karzai government announced closure of all educational institutions in Kabul for two days as part of security measures. More than 2,000 people are debating the pros and cons of the proposed pact at the grand assembly.

    All sitting parliamentarians, some former MPs, 30 percent members of each provincial council, representatives of civil society and special people, religious scholars and influential tribal elders are attending the gathering at the Polytechnic Institute.

    Up to 120 Afghan refugees in Pakistan, 80 in Iran and 30 others in US, Canada and some European countries are also be in attendance.

    Some people and political parties termed the meeting as unconstitutional, saying it is in contradiction to the jirga defined in the Constitution. About 77 lawmakers announced on Wednesday their boycott of the event.

    They include the Hope and Change Coalition led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and the newly established Afghanistan National Front, headed by Gen. Abdur Rashid Dostum, lawmaker Muhammad Mohaqiq and ex-vice president Ahmad Zia Masood, as well as the National Unity Front.

    Under Article 65 of the Constitution, the president can call for a referendum on important national, political, social as well as economic issues. The referendum shall not be contrary to the provisions of this Constitution or require its amendment.

    The insurgents say the jirga has been convened on foreigners' dictates.

    myn/mbg/mud