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Afghan President Defends Decision on Cabinet Nominees

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

Hamid Karzai gives his list of proposed Cabinet ministers to parliament on Saturday with eight new faces

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is defending his new Cabinet picks, saying he and the ministers will be held accountable for any corruption.

At a news conference Sunday with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme, Mr. Karzai dismissed criticism of the 23 nominees whose names were presented to parliament on Saturday.

Some Afghan lawmakers are criticizing the president's decision to keep a former warlord (Ismail Khan of the Energy Ministry) accused of human rights abuses, and to nominate others linked to regional power-brokers and corrupt officials.

Critics also are complaining that the new Cabinet includes only one woman and no opposition members.

Mr. Karzai said Sunday that nearly half of his nominees are new. He added that he plans to form a new ministry for literacy that would be led by a woman, and that he plans to appoint women to deputy minister positions.

Parliament must approve the new Cabinet before it can begin work.

President Karzai is under intense international pressure to clean up the corruption that plagued his previous administration. His Cabinet picks are considered his first major test of governance since his re-election.

He has proposed keeping the key ministers of Interior, Finance and Defense, and dropping the ministers of mines and religious affairs, both of whom are facing corruption allegations.

President Karzai has yet to nominate a foreign minister to replace Rangin Spanta, who will step down after next month's international conference on Afghanistan in London.

NATO has welcomed the nominees, eight of whom have never held a ministerial post.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul issued a guarded statement about the list. It said it looks forward to the lower house of parliament carrying out its duty to vet and approve candidates who will contribute to Afghanistan's progress toward institutional reform, security and prosperity.

The U.S. is preparing to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to try to control a nearly decade-old insurgency fought by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.