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Hardliners threaten to depose Ahmadinejad over defiance

The warning points to a rift among Iran's conservatives and could further sap the authority of the controversial president. The government also denied a request for a rally by Mousavi supporters.

July 29, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Political hard-liners warned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday that he could be deposed like past Iranian leaders if he continued to defy the country's supreme religious leader.

The implied threat was the latest evidence of the rift within Iran's conservative camp and could serve to further sap the authority of a president already considered illegitimate by reformists.

The Islamic Society of Engineers, a political group close to parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, warned in an open letter to Ahmadinejad that he could suffer the same fate as Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who was deposed in 1953 in a CIA-backed coup with the acquiescence of the clergy.

The letter also cites the experience of President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, who was ousted in 1981 and fled the country after he fell out with the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Both leaders had been elected by huge margins.

"It seems you want to be the sole speaker and do not want to hear other voices," the group's letter says, noting that recent actions by Ahmadinejad have frustrated his own supporters. "Therefore it is our duty to convey to you the voice of the people."

Meanwhile, Iranians braced for another round of clashes between protesters and security personnel after the Interior Ministry rejected a request to allow supporters of opposition figure Mir-Hossein Mousavi to gather at a large Tehran mosque on Thursday. The protest is meant to commemorate those slain in the unrest that followed Ahmadinejad's disputed reelection victory over Mousavi and two other challengers in June 12 balloting.

In response to the permit denial, Mousavi's supporters began circulating routes for unauthorized marches and candlelight vigils to mark the religiously significant 40th day after the deaths of those killed at June 20 demonstrations, including Neda Agha-Soltan, whose slaying, captured on videotape, drew worldwide condemnation.

Dozens have been killed since the election and hundreds arrested, most recently including Ali Maqami, a campaigner for reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi, who was arrested at his home Monday and taken to Tehran's Evin Prison, news websites reported.

Lawmaker Kazem Jalali said 140 prisoners arrested during the unrest had since been released and that only 200 remained in Evin, far below the number estimated by international observers.

"Those who were released had committed lighter offenses," he said, according to the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency.

Human rights lawyer Shadi Sadr was freed Tuesday on $500,000 bail, according to reformist websites.

But other well-known Iranian political figures remained behind bars.

Officials said supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday ordered the closure of the Kahrizak detention center, described by some as Iran's Guantanamo because it was not under the control of the State Prisons Organization. According to a reformist website, it has been supervised by deputy national police chief and former Revolutionary Guard commander Brig. Gen. Ahmad Reza Radan. Witnesses told Mowjcamp.com that the facility lacked proper ventilation and that prisoners were beaten by ruthless interrogators.

"The closure of Kahrizak detention center had been decided before the election, but postelection events made it necessary to keep it open," Iran's prosecutor-general, Qorban Ali Dori-Najafabadi, told local news media. "Finally, the supreme leader was informed of poor sanitation and other problems for detainees, and he ordered its closure."

Amid the uproar, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the judiciary demanding "maximum Muslim leniency" toward those detained, acknowledging that the "duration of the detentions has been more than normal," a striking departure from the government's insistence all along that detainees were well treated.

While Ahmadinejad's reelection has angered supporters of the opposition, his postelection actions have also enraged fellow conservatives, in particular his attempts to buck Khamenei's order to dump a controversial vice president and his firing of Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei. "His reckless actions indicate quite well that the president does not understand what security challenges we are grappling with," lawmaker Parviz Sorouri told the Mehr news agency.

Conservatives are also bothered by Ahmadinejad's push to broadcast the confessions of detainees, local media reported.

His supporters see airing the confessions as a way to discredit and silence reformists and protesters, a tactic used extensively by hard-liners in the early 1980s.

But conservatives say televised confessions could prove politically explosive and appear dangerously out of step with the national mood. Several local news outlets said Mohseni-Ejei, along with state television chief Ezatollah Zarghami, clergy and judiciary officials, has been locked in a backroom fight with Ahmadinejad over the airing of such confessions.

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