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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 11:37 GMT 12:37 UK
Political blow to Iranian president

By Jim Muir
BBC's correspondent in Tehran

President Khatami
The vote was more a signal to hardliners than to Khatami

Iran's reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, has received a setback in the country's parliament after his nominee for higher education minister was rejected.

President Khatami had argued strongly for Reza Faraji-Dana following the resignation of the outgoing minister in the wake of campus disturbances and student arrests in July.

A strong and decisive yes vote, he told parliament, would mean a show of support for the reformist government's policies in the fields of science and research.

But when it came to the vote - and despite its own reformist majority - the parliament, or Majlis, gave Mr Khatami the thumbs down.

Only 88 of the deputies approved the new nominee, while 127 voted against. It was clearly a blow to the president.

However, the real object of the deputies' displeasure was not Mr Khatami himself but the entrenched hardliners who have made it impossible for either his government or the Majlis itself to make much progress in enacting reforms.

Outside interference

That was the reason for the resignation of the outgoing minister, Mustafa Moin. The deputies clearly wanted to signal their sympathy for him and not to let his demise pass smoothly.

Mr Moin resigned in the aftermath of disturbances in July, which led to the arrest of large numbers of students.

Their treatment was one of the reasons he gave for standing down. But he also cited interference by what he called outside forces in the fields of higher education.

His plans for university reform were passed by the parliament but turned down by the unelected and highly conservative Council of Guardians. It has the right to vet and veto legislation.

In his appearance before parliament, Mr Khatami expressed regret at the continued detention of a number of students. He said he hoped their release would be a gift to the new minister.

However, if that was intended to sway the deputies in favour of the new nominee it did not work.


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