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Afghan parliament votes to dismiss top ministers

The Afghan parliament has passed votes of no confidence against the country's defense and interior ministers. The ministers have been blamed for failing to respond to cross-border attacks from Pakistan.

Parliament passed a measure on Saturday to remove Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak by a vote of 146 to 72. In a separate vote of no confidence Interior Minister Bismillah Mohammadi was ousted by a majority of 126 to 90. Both measures needed to 124 to pass.

The Wolesi Jirga, or lower house of parliament's decision obliges President Hamid Karzai to sack both ministers. They are, however, expected to continue serving in an acting capacity until the appointment of their successors.

"Both ministers are disqualified from their positions and we request His Excellency President Karzai to introduce new ministers for these positions as soon as possible," Abdul Raouf Abrahimi, speaker of the lower house of parliament, told reporters.

Ahead of the vote the ministers were called upon to defend their handling of recent cross-border shelling. Four people were killed last month when more than 300 heavy artillery shells and rockets were fired from Pakistan into Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province. It was the latest in a series of attacks on two eastern Afghan provinces.

Cross-border tensions

Defending his ministry's response to the attacks, Wardak said Afghanistan had sent additional troops and long-range artillery to the mountainous border regions.

"The defense ministry has reinforced army corps 201 and 203 and has specially created another division from which two battalions have already been sent there," Wardak told lawmakers.

"We have also sent long-range artillery and ammunition for use by all army corps," he said, adding that some artillery was being specially refurbished for the eastern border.

Pakistanhas denied the allegations of shelling, calling them "incorrect".

"Pakistani troops only respond to and engage militants from where they are attacked or fired upon," one senior military official in Islamabad said.

ccp/slk (AFP, Reuters, AP)