TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday he would propose at least three female ministers in his new cabinet following Iran’s disputed election, an unprecedented move in the conservative Islamic state.
The hard-liner also said the West must be held to account for stoking unrest in Iran after the June 12 presidential vote, as the third mass trial of demonstrators accused of trying to overthrow clerical rule began.
The election and its aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.
In another development, Iran freed on bail a French teaching assistant charged with spying, France said.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s office said Clotilde Reiss, 24, was well and would stay in the French embassy in Tehran pending a verdict.
Reiss has been charged with aiding a Western plot against the government after the election and has been held in prison since early July.
Ahmadinejad has until Wednesday to present a cabinet to parliament for approval but may get a rough ride from the conservatives who dominate the assembly, as well as from his moderate foes who see his next government as illegitimate.
He did not say who would be in charge of the Oil Ministry of the world’s fifth-biggest crude exporter. But he said Industries and Mines Minister Ali Akbar Mehrabian, a close ally, would remain in his old job.
A semi-official news agency separately quoted a senior lawmaker as saying Ahmadinejad was expected to nominate chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili for the foreign minister’s post.
Like Ahmadinejad, Jalili has taken an uncompromising stance in Iran’s dispute with the West over its nuclear program, which the United States suspects is aimed at making bombs. Iranian officials say it is for peaceful power purposes.
Ahmadinejad’s surprise announcement that he would nominate several female ministers may be an attempt to shore up support among women. The president’s moderate opponents campaigned on the need to enhance their position in Iran.
Activists working for more female rights say women face institutionalized discrimination in Iran, for example in legislation relating to divorce, child custody and inheritance.
It would be the first time a woman would hold a ministerial position in Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution, even though a woman in charge of environmental issues was one of several vice presidents in Ahmadinejad’s outgoing cabinet.
One female minister under the U.S.-backed shah, Farrokhroo Parsa, was executed after the revolution.
“With the 10th presidential election, we have entered a new era. Conditions changed completely and the government will see major changes,” Ahmadinejad said.
He named two of his proposed female ministers — conservative lawmaker Fatemeh Ajorlou as social welfare minister and former member of parliament Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, a university professor and gynecologist, as health minister.
“At least one more will be added,” Ahmadinejad said.
Among other planned cabinet changes, he said Heydar Moslehi, now a presidential adviser on clerical affairs, would become intelligence minister after his predecessor was sacked.
Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini would retain the post.
The deputy head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, Hossein Sobhaninia, said Ahmadinejad was expected to nominate Jalili as foreign minister to replace Manouchehr Mottaki, the Mehr News Agency reported.
Moderate defeated presidential candidates Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi say the June election was rigged to secure the re-election of Ahmadinejad. The authorities say the vote was the healthiest Iran has had in the past three decades.
Iran accuses the United States and Britain of inciting post-election protests in an attempt to topple the clerical establishment. They deny the charge.
“You (the West) should be held accountable for your actions,” Ahmadinejad said in a speech earlier on Sunday. “The Iranian nation would...slap those with ill intentions so hard that they would lose their way home.”
At Sunday’s trial, no prominent moderate politicians were among the 28 accused named by media, which showed pictures of some of them sitting in a courtroom wearing prison clothes.
Iran has previously held two trials for more than 100 moderates, including senior politicians, for various charges including acting against national security which is punishable by death under Iran’s Islamic law.
The West and human rights groups have condemned the trials.
Additional reporting by Reza Derakhshi and Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Angus MacSwan