Canada military wrote big Karzai speech-opposition

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OTTAWA, Sept 25 (Reuters) A speech that Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivered to Canada's Parliament a year ago, urging country's continued military support, was nothing more than a ''political stunt'', written by Canadian defense ministry staff, an opposition party charged today.

Dawn Black of the left-leaning New Democrats said the speech -- in which Karzai asked Canada to keep its soldiers in Afghanistan -- was a blatant bid by the minority Conservative government to shore up flagging support for the mission.

Canada has 2,500 troops in the southern city of Kandahar.

One soldier was killed today, the 71st to die since Canada deployed forces to Afghanistan in late 2002.

''President Karzai's address to Parliament was an elaborately staged political stunt by this government to sell Canadians on the combat mission in Kandahar,'' Black said.

''President Karzai should never be used as a front man for this government and Parliament should never be unwittingly used as a prop ... this raises very serious concerns about the independence of the president,'' she told a news conference.

Documents that the New Democrats obtained through access to information legislation showed a team of military officials worked on the speech at the request of Karzai's office.

''Team prepared initial draft of president's address to Parliament 22 Sep(tember). It was noted that key statistics, messages, themes, as well as overall structure, were adopted by the president in his remarks,'' reported one officer.

In the speech, Karzai said Taliban militants were trying ''to frighten us all into the dark ages'' and urged Canadians to be patient.

''I find it incredible that any foreign head of state would be handed their remarks by the host country's military,'' said Black, whose party wants the troops withdrawn immediately.

A spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay said he would look into the matter. The Afghan embassy could not be contacted for comment.

Polls show Canadians are split over the mission, which is due to end in February 2009. Critics say the military has spent far too much effort on fighting and not enough on development.

Black said military officers were so pleased by the reaction to Karzai's speech that they planned a follow-up tour of Canada by the Afghan development minister.

''The aim of the tour is to capitalize on the recent president's visit and address to Parliament by emphasizing the development work ... and drawing attention away from persistent media reporting of the security situation,'' read the report.

Black said she would call for an emergency debate in Parliament to consider the matter.

Reuters KK VP0040

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