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Middle east

Parliament approves 18 cabinet picks, including wanted defence minister

Video by Owen FAIRCLOUGH


Latest update : 2009-09-04

After five days of heated debate, Iranian parliamentarians have approved 18 out of 21 cabinet ministers proposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, including his controversial pick for defence minister, who is wanted by Interpol.

AFP - Iran's parliament strongly backed on Thursday a cabinet proposed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that includes the Islamic republic's first woman minister and a man wanted for bombing a Jewish community centre in Argentina.
The conservative-dominated assembly approved 18 of 21 nominees, propelling Ahmadinejad into his second term at a time when the Islamic republic is battling its worst crisis since the hardliner's re-election in June.
The candidates who failed to garner the required majority of votes were the two other women proposed and the would-be energy minister.
In a move highlighting Iran's often maverick status in the world, nearly 80 percent of lawmakers approved Ahmad Vahidi -- wanted by Argentina for a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires -- as defence minister.
Following the vote, Vahidi said his selection, which was by a far greater margin than any other, was a "decisive slap to Israel," an arch-enemy of the country.
The first woman to join a cabinet in the Islamic republic will be Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, at the health ministry.
A gynaecologist and two-time former MP, Dastjerdi, 50, was approved despite never having held an executive job in government or even run a hospital.
Dastjerdi described her selection as an "important step" for Iranian women.
"I think today women reached their long-standing dream of having a woman in the cabinet to pursue their demands," Dastjerdi told the parliamentary news service soon after the vote.
"This is an important step for women and I hold my head high."
The other two women, Sousan Keshvaraz and Fatemeh Ajorlou, fell short of the required number of votes to take over at education and at welfare and social security.
But oil ministry nominee Masoud Mirkazemi, who is set to head the crucial portfolio of OPEC's second largest exporter, barely squeaked by after being harshly criticised by a powerful conservative MP.
The voting took place after five days of heated debate saw some key nominees strongly opposed by MPs, yet approved in the end.
The confidence motion follows Ahmadinejad's June re-election and subsequent protests that have divided the nation's ruling elites and powerful clerical groups and shaken the pillars of the regime.
Rivals claimed the outcome of the vote was fraudulent, triggering massive street protests and violence in Tehran which left some 30 people killed. Opposition groups say 72 people died.
Ahead of the vote, the embattled president appealed to parliament to approve his team, saying this would deliver a "punch" to Iran's enemies.
Hailing the "free and open" debate, he said this proved that "real democracy exists in Iran."
"Some wanted to weaken the majlis (parliament) and government. But the majlis and the government will stand hand in hand and punch the enemy in its face. We are all one family, although we are independent branches of the system," he said.
Ahmadinejad also said he would form his cabinet "with whatever number of nominees is approved."
Following the vote, he made no immediate comment about his plans for the three ministries whose candidates were rejected.
Mirkazemi scraped by with 147 votes of the 144 needed, after being harshly criticised by prominent MP Hamid Reza Katouzian, who said he lacked experience in the oil sector, which accounts for 80 percent of Iran's foreign earnings.
Mirkazemi was nearly impeached twice during Ahmadinejad's first term over stiff hike in prices of basic commodities.
He ignored the criticism on Thursday and boldly outlined his plans.
"We have to remember that our oil fields are depleting and we must find sophisticated ways to utilise them," he said.
"We also need 140 billion dollars to boost upstream projects and another 50 billion dollars for downstream projects. We must also boost our oil production to 5.1 million barrels a day from 4.3 over the next five years."
Ahmadinejad's choice for interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, a military commander, had on Wednesday been severely criticised by reformist MP Jamshid Ansari who said his candidacy signalled Iran's political atmosphere was being "militarised."
Najjar is a top commander in the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps. One of the most powerful institutions in Iran, it was set up in the wake of the 1979 revolution to defend the Islamic republic from internal and external threats.

Date created : 2009-09-03