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New Iranian intelligence chief approved by parliament

TEHRAN, Feb 24 (AFP) - The Iranian parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved the appointment of Ali Yunesi, a 43-year-old conservative cleric, to head the scandal-tainted intelligence ministry.

A total of 197 members of the conservative-dominated parliament, the Majlis, voted in favor of Yunesi following two hours of debate while nine opposed his nomination and 18 abstained.

Yunesi was named by President Mohammad Khatami to take over as head of the powerful ministry following the resignation of the former minister, Qorbanali Dorri-Najafabadi.

Najafabadi stepped down on February 9 following revelations that "rogue" intelligence agents had been involved in the high-profile murders of several Iranian dissidents and writers last year.

The vote in favor of Yunesi followed a speech by Khatami in which he said that changes at the intelligence ministry had become "indispensable" following the wave of assassinations.

"We are determined to eradicate the malignant cancer which was behind the murders," Khatami said, noting that the brutal slayings had "shocked" both the government and the population.

"We want an intelligence agency and not a repressive police apparatus," Iran's reformist president said, adding that the new minister should display "greater intelligence." "We need strong arms but smart heads," he said.

The intelligence ministry revealed in January that several agents of its agents had been arrested in connection with the murders of the leader of a nationalist opposition group and his wife and three writers campaigning for greater freedom of expression in the Islamic Republic.

Conservatives in the regime have insisted the killings were the work of foreign agitators while reformists have accused Islamic fundamentalists -- backed by conservatives -- of being behind the murders.

Yunesi, in a brief speech, said his goal as head of the ministry would be to "reestablish authority."

"Authority, of course, but also popularity," he added.

Yunesi headed a special committee of inquiry into the dissidents' murders and has wide experience in intelligence affairs having helped establish the intelligence ministry in the early 1980s after the Islamic Revolution.

The holder of master's degrees in both education and political science, Yunesi has also served as a public prosecutor in Tehran and as head of the judicial division of the armed forces.

He joined Palestinian and Lebanese guerrilla groups after being forced to leave the country in 1975 due to his anti-Shah activities, according to a biography published by the IRNA news agency.

On his return, he was arrested and "severely tortured" in 1978 by Savak, the Shah's secret police, IRNA said.


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