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Afghan lower house approves most cabinet members

Written by: Staff
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KABUL, Apr 20 (Reuters) Afghanistan's lower house of parliament voted on President Hamid Karzai's new cabinet today, approving most of its members including a new foreign minister but rejecting five nominees.

Under the new constitution the assembly elected last September had to vote on new cabinet members in what was seen as a test of opposition to Karzai, who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

Members of the 249-seat lower house voted for the 25 ministers individually and by secret ballot. The tally took several hours and was briefly interrupted by a power cut.

''I congratulate ministers who won votes, but that does not mean that we will not supervise your work,'' Arif Noorzai, vice president of the lower house, said after the count. ''If you take any decision against the will of the people, we will decide.'' Karzai, who won a presidential election in 2004 and is backed by the West, announced a limited cabinet reshuffle last month that included appointing foreign affairs adviser Rangeen Dadfar Spanta as foreign minister in place of Abdullah Abdullah.

Spanta won approval as did other key ministers including Finance Minister Anwar Ul-Haq Ahady, Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak and Interior Minister nominee Zarar Ahmad Moqbel.

Those rejected included Economy Minister Mohammad Amin Farhang, Culture Minister Sayed Makhdoum Raheen and the nominees for women's affairs, Soraya Rahim Sobhrang, transport, Gul Hussein Ahmadi, and commerce, Mohammad Haider Reza.

The president will put forward new names for those posts.

Speaking before the vote, members of parliament said they expected several ministers to be rejected but did not expect strong opposition to Karzai's main choices.

''I'm sure he'll be happy,'' member of parliament Khalid Pashtun, a Karzai supporter, said after the votes were counted.

''I don't think he was expecting the whole cabinet to be approved. He was expecting about 70 percent but this is over 80 percent.'' The cabinet changes were aimed at improving government efficiency and followed lengthy negotiations between political and ethnic factions.

Unlike previous cabinets, the new lineup contains only a handful of old faction commanders, and more well-educated technocrats.

September's general election, held on a non-party basis, produced a disparate group of former communist officials, ex-Taliban members, technocrats and women's rights activists.

But the lower house is dominated by members of former Mujahideen, or holy warrior, factions that battled Soviet occupiers in the 1980s, fought a civil war for much of the 1990s and helped US forces overthrow the Taliban in 2001.

REUTERS KD KP2240

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