Ahmadinejad defies ayatollah on vice president

Iran's president refuses an order by the supreme leader to dump the newly chosen official who is despised by hard-liners for his remarks on Israelis. In Tehran, authorities crack down on protesters.

July 22, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Iran's president, under attack by reformists after his disputed election victory last month, on Tuesday openly defied his most powerful backer, refusing an order by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to dump a newly chosen vice president who is despised by hard-liners for insisting last year that Iranians had no quarrel with the Israeli people.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad finds himself under increasing pressure from Iranian hard-liners who appear eager to reap political rewards after leading a weeks-long crackdown on supporters of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who say vote fraud was responsible for Ahmadinejad's victory.

The leader of a hard-line scholars group linked to the Basiji militia said his organization would propose its own "desired Cabinet lineup" to the president.

"Our organization intends to become the government's think tank," said Lotfali Bakh- tiari, leader of the group, in an interview published by Khabar newspaper. "We want to introduce our elite into the government to serve the country. No obstacle is on our way, even the current climate of mistrust."

Ahmadinejad surprised many observers by defending the vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, an in-law, in the face of a torrent of criticism from his hard-line allies.

News agencies confirmed Tuesday that Khamenei sent a letter to Ahmadinejad on Monday asking for the removal of Mashaei.

"The president should announce the dismissal, or acceptance of the resignation of Rahim Mashaei right away," said Mohammad Hasan Abu- torabi, the deputy speaker of parliament, according to the semiofficial Iranian Students News Agency.

But Ahmadinejad insisted on state television that Mashaei "will continue his job," adding, "he is very loyal to the Islamic Revolution and a servant of people."

In the capital, hordes of Bakhtiari's plainclothes Basiji counterparts, wielding truncheons, appeared to lead the way Tuesday in menacing small groups of anti-government protesters seeking to mark a nationalist Iranian anniversary.

The protesters were part of a burgeoning political movement built on Mousavi's election campaign.

According to witnesses at the aborted rally, which drew hundreds, at least one woman lay unconscious on the ground after she was clubbed, as hundreds of militiamen and uniformed officers maintained control over the huge Seventh of Tir Square.

A hard-line military leader of the Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday threatened to broadcast confessions extracted from hundreds of prisoners detained at protest rallies as a way to "restore confidence" in the political system, an apparent answer to calls Monday by leading reformists for a national referendum on the results of the disputed June 12 election.

"One solution to restore the lost confidence is to lay bare the dangerous scenarios designed by anti-regime think tanks led by reformist groups," Gen. Yadollah Javani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "It is necessary to broadcast the confessions of the detainees for the people so that they would understand who had designed the 'win by any means' strategy."

Leading Shiite clerics have issued religious decrees saying such confessions have no validity.

Among those arrested and held as political prisoners without access to counsel is the brother of Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, the family confirmed Tuesday after a right-wing newspaper run by the Revolutionary Guard reported that he was in jail on charges of leading the unrest.

Opposition figures show no sign of relenting. Mousavi's top lieutenant said in a report published early this morning on the website of Khabar that the former prime minister would announce the creation of a new political front by the end of the week. Ali-Reza Beheshti told Khabar Online that the new political front would include both reformist and conservative political groups.

A day after Khamenei pointedly warned Iran's political elites to toe his line or risk "flunking" a test that they could never retake, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani published a 40-year-old excerpt from his memoirs in which he said "the most important test is how to communicate with people."

In another act of criticism, Hassan Khomeini, a mid-ranking moderate cleric and the grandson of the Islamic Republic's revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, reportedly left the country to avoid being present at official functions, including Ahmadinejad's upcoming inauguration.

The new vice president, Mashaei, who served as head of a state tourism organization during Ahmadinejad's first term, struggled to defend himself in a lengthy interview published on several websites Tuesday. "What I said has nothing to do with the Zionist regime," he said. "My remarks were a kind of psychological war against the usurper regime."

But hard-liners also dislike Mashaei because he was spotted on a trip to Turkey watching women dance, an act considered sinful by some Islamic hard-liners.

Moderates in parliament oppose the appointment because Ahmadinejad did not consult with lawmakers before making the announcement.


Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed to this report.

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