Conservatives tighten control on government
TEHRAN, July 22 (AFP) - Iran's conservatives tightened their control
over the government Thursday after a senior right-winger was named head
of one of the most powerful economic and political institutions in the
Mohammad Forouzandeh was given a five-year apppointment to head the
Foundation for the Disinherited, a gigantic state empire that employs
hundreds of thousands of Iranians and has an estimated 100 billion dollars
State radio said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tapped the
46-year-old Forouzandeh, considered a staunch conservative, to succeed
outgoing director Mohsem Rafiq-Doust.
The foundation, which seized the wide-ranging possessions of the former
shah after the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled him, manages a vast
economic machine as powerful as it is secretive.
In principle the foundation provides economic assistance to the nation's
poor and disabled, especially those wounded in the 1980-1988 war with
At the same time it also directs much of Iran's economy, exercising
virtual monopoly control over the nation's finance, housing, transport
and agriculture sectors.
It operates many of the biggest hotels -- nationalised after the revolution
-- and even holds the concession for luxury cars such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
But its hazy accountability and the practically untouchable status
of its directors has drawn criticism in recent years from economic as
well as political quarters.
The foundation's airline went bankrupt earlier this year and outgoing
director Rafiq-Doust was tainted by scandal after his brother was sentenced
to three years in prison for corruption.
The official IRNA news agency said Khamenei had directed Forouzandeh
to "assure good management ... and make optimal use of public assets
in serving the disabled war veterans and the nation's disadvantaged."
The new director is thought to be very close to the regime's conservatives
and was arrested for his political activities during the shah's regime.
He was part of the official "welcoming committee" when the
Islamic republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned from
exile after the fall of the shah.
During the war with Iraq he reportedly had responsibility for supplying
the nation's troops on the front line, putting the foundation's transport
and agriculture industries to work to ensure a steady flow of food.
Forouzandeh was later named chief of staff of Iran's elite Revolutionary
Guards, one of the pillars of the Islamic regime, and also served as defence
minister under former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
His appointment strengthens conservative control of the government
amid bitter political wrangling with moderates aligned behind reformist
President Mohammad Khatami.
The intense factional disputes were heightened after last week's bloody
clashes in the capital pitting pro-Khatami students against security forces
and Islamic hardliners.
Since the unrest students as well as government reformers have accused
conservatives of staging the riots in a bid to topple Khatami from power
or block his reform agenda.
Conservatives have insisted the unrest was orchestrated by students
in the pay of foreign countries.
They have also launched an intensive crackdown on the pro-Khatami
press, on Tuesday jailing an editor from a leading moderate newspaper.
It was the closure of another pro-Khatami paper which first sparked
the student demonstrations.