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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 Islamic republic.

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 in assets.

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 Iraq.

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.


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