Iranian parliament sacks minister, in setback for Rouhani

DUBAI Wed Aug 20, 2014 1:28pm EDT

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference in Ankara June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends a news conference in Ankara June 9, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's parliament sacked the science, research and technology minister on Wednesday, a victory for the conservative critics of moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

In their impeachment motion - the first time parliament has sacked a minister since Rouhani's election last year - lawmakers criticized Reza Faraji-Dana for allowing students expelled from university over anti-government unrest in 2009 to return to college.

The unrest was sparked by the re-election of Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which reformist-minded Iranians believed had been rigged. State forces stamped out the protests and the two figureheads of the reformist "green movement" were placed under house arrest, where they remain.

In a defiant reaction to the impeachment vote, Rouhani quickly named another moderate as acting science minister, Mohammed Ali Najafi, who was blocked by parliament from becoming education minister after the president nominated him last year.

"Mr. Faraji-Dana did much to raise scholarly, moral and cultural standards, and also bring peace back to our universities," Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on TV.

"I want Mr. Najafi to pursue the same path," he said.

Rouhani has repeatedly clashed with conservatives in parliament and other state institutions who disagree with his liberal rhetoric and his decision to hold negotiations with the Western powers that Tehran has long considered enemies.

His election had raised hopes among liberals for an easing of political and social restrictions, but Rouhani has yet to make significant policy changes in those areas.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has given cautious support to Rouhani's strategy to seek a negotiated solution to Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West, and has stepped in to defend his foreign ministry pick, Javad Zarif.

But parliament's success in sacking the science minister shows Rouhani still faces big opposition to domestic reforms.

In Wednesday's vote, 145 parliamentarians voted to oust Faraji-Dana, 110 voted to retain him and 15 abstained, the official state news agency IRNA reported.

(Additional reporting by Mehrdad Balali; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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