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Sunday, June 21, 1998 Published at 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK

World: Middle East

Khatami stand raises tension

Abdollah Nouri in a cabinet meeting (second from left)

Jim Muir in Tehran on the Iranian President's latest move
Political tensions between Iran's reformers and conservatives have deepened after the moderate President Mohammad Khatami backed a progressive colleague who had been impeached by the conservative-dominated parliament.

The Interior Minister, Abdollah Nouri, was accused of creating social tensions and making provocative speeches. But immediately after his dismissal, President Khatami appointed him to another cabinet post as a vice-president in charge of development and social affairs.

The surprise move is the latest in a continuing power struggle between traditionalists and moderates, led by President Khatami, in the Iranian leadership.

[ image: President Khatami: surprise move]
President Khatami: surprise move
BBC correspondents say this is the closest President Khatami has come to political confrontation with the conservatives since he came to power last August, promising political liberalisation.

The president has described Mr Nouri as a crucial player in implementing the reformist policies on which he was elected last August.

Hardline attack

BBC World's reporter Peter Biles: stage set for showdown
Earlier parliamentary hardliners attacked Mr Nouri's entire record at the interior ministry, accusing him of engaging in factional politics rather than dedicating himself to ensuring the country's internal security and stability.

More specifically, he was charged with allowing crime and drugs rates to soar because of disruption and distraction caused by a large number of dismissals and reappointments among local and national officials.

He was also charged with pursuing his own political agenda by campaigning openly on behalf of the Mayor of Tehran, Gholamhoseyn Karbaschi, who is currently on trial on corruption charges.

The conservative deputies also accused him of causing unrest by giving permits for demonstrations which led to disturbances.

The motion of censure against Mr Nouri was carried by 137 votes to 117.

Charges played down

Mr Nouri played the charges down. He said they were vague and that they should have been brought to his attention in more detail earlier so that they could have been addressed without resort to impeachment.

But Mr Nouri did not sway the floating voters in the parliament, known as the Maglis, who might have come down on his side.

The BBC's Jim Muir reports on earlier events in Iran's parliament
The BBC's Middle East correspondent, who was in the parliament, says after the first session it was clear that Mr Nouri was in serious trouble.

The parliament's decision was seen as a considerable blow to Mr Khatami, but he has now made it clear that Mr Nouri is crucial to his own reformist political programme.

He has made it obvious in recent days that Mr Nouri was a key member of his administration, and that he had been following appropriate policies.

Mr Nouri was entrusted with the task of carrying out the president's plans for political reforms aimed at liberalising the system.

The correspondent says the latest move by President Khatami raises the stakes in the political power play and brings political confrontation closer than the president would have liked.

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