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Afghanistan's Karzai Defends Cabinet Nominees

WATCH: Jan Alekozai of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan talks about why so much attention is being paid to Karzai's new cabinet, and what is so surprising about the proposed lineup.

(RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has defended his new choice of ministers after facing criticism by some legislators.

Speaking at a joint press conference with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme in Kabul, Karzai said all members of his cabinet will be accountable for anything relating to corruption.

"We fully assure that all the new ministers and those who were with us in the past will be accountable for anything relating to corruption or any other issue," Karzai said.

"And I will be accountable to the people of Afghanistan in preventing and addressing the issues. We have tried our best to have a cabinet that can work and achieve the goals we want for Afghanistan."

Karzai also said the new government is representative of all ethnic groups in the country, saying: "We have tried to ensure the cabinet is a mirror of Afghanistan's people."

On December 19, Karzai formally presented to parliament a list of nominees for Karzai's new cabinet. The 23 nominees must be approved by lawmakers before they can take office.

Karzai, who was reelected in an August 20 vote marred by fraud, has been facing intense Western pressure to cleanse his government of corruption and mismanagement.

Leterme, whose country contributes more than 500 troops to the international military forces in Afghanistan, reaffirmed Belgium's military and aid commitments.

He also said that "a continuous strife towards good governance and tackling corruption" was an important issue that the international community wanted to see in the country.

NATO Praise

Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed Karzai's nominations and said the Afghan people deserve a government characterized by "integrity and professionalism."

Karzai's proposed lineup keeps most of the top ministers favored by the West, including Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar, and Finance Minister Hazarat Omar Zakhelwal.

The ministers of mines and of the hajj, both accused of embezzling large sums of donor money, are not among the nominees.

One former warlord accused of human rights abuses, Energy and Water Minister Ismail Khan, is included in the list.

The cabinet nominations sparked criticism by some legislators, who accused Karzai of failing to bring reform to his administration in his first major test of his pledge to change course.

They complained that the president was keeping ministers who had performed badly and that he was appointing new faces who would be more loyal to the warlords and regional power-brokers than to the government.

Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta lost his job, although no replacement was announced.

Karzai today said he was "pressing” Spanta to retain his position until a London conference on Afghanistan scheduled for January 28 is held.

Only one woman, the minister of women's affairs, Husn Banu Ghazanfar, was nominated.

But Karzai said he plans to form a new Literacy Ministry that would be headed by a woman. He said he also plans to appoint women to a number of deputy minister positions.

Karzai also defended the mayor of Kabul, who this month was sentenced to four years in prison for corruption, saying he felt responsibility to defend someone who is "clean and honest."

RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report