Monday, October 04, 2004

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East: Iranian transportation minister impeached

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: AP - Middle East: Iranian transportation minister impeached: "Iranian transportation minister impeached

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
TEHRAN, Iran -- In the latest blow to the administration of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Iran's conservative-dominated parliament impeached the transportation minister on Sunday, accusing him of financial mismanagement and a shady aviation deal.

After several hours of debate, 188 legislators voted to strip Ahmad Khorram of his Cabinet post. Fifty-eight voted in his favor and nine abstained. Conservative lawmakers raised loud cheers of "Allahu akbar" or "God is great."

A senior conservative lawmaker, former deputy foreign minister Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said the vote was parliament's "show of strength."

The conservatives accused Khorram of financial mismanagement and of jeopardizing Iran's security by signing a deal with TAV, a Turkish-Austrian aviation consortium, to operate at the new Imam Khomeini International Airport on the outskirts of Tehran.

Hard-liners in parliament believe the contract compromised Iran's security and aviation systems. Iranian armed forces, controlled by hard-liners, accused TAV of having links with Israel, Iran's arch foe.

Feelings about the Turkish contract rose so high that the elite Revolutionary Guards, who support the conservatives, shut down the airport on the day of its inauguration in May. The airport remains closed.

Khorram, in a speech to defend his performance, said his ministry observed all legal conditions set forth by the intelligence ministry before awarding the contract to TAV.

"The contract with TAV is to operate services, not management of the airport," Khorram said.



Last week, the parliament approved a bill forcing the government to seek legislative approval for the TAV contract as well as another contract with Turkcell, a Turkish mobile-phone network, to upgrade the GSM network.

Sunday's vote and comments by lawmakers suggested that the government has little chance of winning parliamentary approval for the TAV deal.

"Definitely, we can inaugurate and operate the airport using Iranian contractors and contributions without foreign help," said senior lawmaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar.

Khorram's impeachment was the first since hard-liners retook control of the parliament in disputed legislative elections in February.

Hard-liners have been trying to stifle Khatami's political and social reform campaign since he was elected in 1997, striking at the heart of his reform program by targeting ministers who were promoting press and political freedoms.

"This is the beginning (for Khatami's government)," warned conservative lawmaker Reza Attarzadeh.

The Iranian lawmakers accused Khorram of misappropriating public funds, saying he spent $4,500 to decorate his office and $2.25 million for the airport inauguration ceremony in May. Khorram denied the charges.

"I use a chair that is 25 years old. The reports are not true," he said.

Khorram said he refused to give in to demands by lawmakers to dismiss some of his managers because "not a single piece of evidence was provided to prove my managers are guilty of any wrongdoing."

Five years ago, then-Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri was impeached. He was sentenced to five years in jail for religious dissent, but was pardoned after serving two years behind bars.

The former, popular minister of culture, Ataollah Mohajerani, also was impeached by hard-liners who were controlling the parliament until 2000, but narrowly survived a confidence vote and later resigned under pressure."

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