Under-fire governor appoints ally to seat

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The Independent US

The governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, accused of trying to sell the Senate seat of the President-elect Barack Obama, has thumbed his nose at the political establishment and appointed a political ally to the post.

At a surreal, chaotic press conference last night, amid impeachment proceedings against him and despite Democrat leaders saying they would ignore his choice, Mr Blagojevich announced the state's former attorney-general would attend Congress.

Roland Burris, a 71-year-old lawyer and lobbyist with a long record of service in Illinois, would be the only African-American in the Senate.

The appointment is the latest twist to the political scandal, which began three weeks ago with Mr Blagojevich's arrest on corruption charges. Prosecutors based their allegations on wiretaps that appeared to catch him attempting to sell the seat. Mr Blagojevich promised to "fight to the death".

Yesterday, calling out and pointing at reporters, the governor said: "Feel free to castigate the appointor, but don't lynch the appointor. I am not accused of any wrongdoing."

Senate leaders said the governor was detached from reality if he thought his appointment of Mr Burris would be allowed to stand. The Democratic Party leadership said the move was "regrettable and imprudent".

It said: "Anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic caucus."

Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who must certify the appointment, said he would not do so.

Mr Blagojevich said that corruption allegations against him were irrelevant to Mr Burris's qualifications and should not "taint this good and honest man". Mr Burris said he would work to try to persuade Senate leaders to accept him, while friends argued that the Democrats should not bar a man who would be the only African-American in the Congress's upper house.

Mr Burris's law firm and lobbying consultancy have ties to Mr Blagojevich's administration.

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