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Afghan parliament votes in new spy chief and ministers
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's parliament voted in a new intelligence chief and two security ministers on Saturday, stepping closer to settling a row with President Hamid Karzai over ministerial appointments.
Political turmoil has delayed decisions on crucial legislation, including a revised mining law being closely watched by Western donors and foreign mining companies.
Any fresh dispute between Karzai and parliament could also complicate the timetable for the planned transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces and a withdrawal by most foreign combat troops by 2014.
The nomination of the influential former Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid as the new head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), has alarmed human rights groups who say the NDS has a long and well-documented history of torturing its detainees.
Diplomats and rights groups have linked Khalid to abuse of suspected insurgents at a prison in Kandahar during his time as provincial governor.
An MP from northern Kunduz province, Shukria Paikan, dismissed the human rights abuse allegations against Khalid.
"Until I see human rights violations by my eye, I never trust any report or claim," she told Reuters. "Whenever we find enough and accurate evidence, we will decide whether to keep him as a chief of intelligence service or not."
Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, previously interior minister, was voted in as defence minister, and former deputy interior minister Mushtaba Patang became minister.
Some parliament members had said they wanted fresh appointments to come from outside Karzai's increasingly unpopular inner circle.
The approval of the majority of Karzai's appointments averted a deepening row, although one ministerial position remained vacant after the vote.
Haji din Mohammad, former governor of Kabul and close ally of the president, failed to win parliament's vote of confidence.
"We wish success to our winning ministers and ask President Karzai to appoint a new candidate as a minister of border affairs" said lower house speaker Abdul Rauf Ibrahimi.
Previous defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak was sacked by parliament over deteriorating security in Afghanistan, 11 years after the NATO-led war against the country's former Taliban rulers began.
New defence minister Mohammadi is an ethnic Tajik with a strong power base in the country's north, while NDS chief Khalid is an ethnic Pashtun with strong connections in the south, from where the Taliban draw most support.
(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Andrew Roche)
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