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Iran to appoint new judiciary head next week

TEHRAN, Aug 10 (Reuters) - Iran plans to appoint a new judiciary head next week to replace Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, a stern critic of President Mohammad Khatami's liberal reforms, the judiciary announced on Tuesday. (See photo)

Yazdi, a staunch conservative at the helm of the powerful judiciary for 10 years, will be succeeded by Iraqi-born Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi, who has not taken sides in the current factional dispute in the Islamic republic.

Judiciary spokesman Fotowwat Nasiri-Savadkouhi told the official IRNA news agency the transfer would take place on August 17.

Iran's judiciary is independent from Khatami's administration and is among many powerful institutions in the Islamic republic under direct control of supreme clerical leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Its current chief, Ayatollah Yazdi, has been at sharp odds with Khatami's pro-reform allies and his courts have moved to imprison many liberal journalists and Islamic intellectuals in the past months.

The boldest move came in the closure last month of the country's leading pro-reform newspaper for five years and the barring of its publisher Mohammad Mousavi-Khoeiniha from press activities for three years. The court ordered the ban on the daily Salam for printing secret documents.

The court's original order on July 7 suspending Salam touched off a pro-democracy student rally that was attacked by police and hardline vigilantes, leading to the worst unrest since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Yazdi's resignation was a main demand in a series by pro-reform students in last month's riots. Yazdi has dismissed such calls and says the decision to step down was his alone.

Pro-reform groups, accusing the judiciary of siding with conservatives, are cautiously welcoming Yazdi's departure, hoping that his successor will soften the courts' attitude towards them.

Hashemi, 57, has so far taken a low profile in Iran's political infighting, earning him modest support from both conservatives and reformers. Press reports suggest some sweeping change in the upper ranks of the judiciary may soon follow his assumption of office.

But officials say Khamenei has limited to 10 years the tenure of chiefs of institutions under his wing.

``The leader thinks that it is not efficient for a head of an institution to serve more than 10 years,'' Habibollah Asgaroladi, an aide to Khamenei, said last month.

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