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Ahmadinejad accused of fabricating crowds

Rivals say the Iranian president has been busing in students and soldiers to swell the audiences for his speeches.

May 03, 2009|The Associated Press

TEHRAN — Opponents of Iran's hard-line president accused him Saturday of faking his support by busing in students and soldiers to attend his public appearances, a strategy brought to light by a death in a bus crash.

The student's death Wednesday gave reformist challengers to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ammunition to attack a leader they blame for the country's faltering economy and its deepened international isolation.

The president's top challenger in the June 12 vote, reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, said it was more important for Ahmadinejad to bus in people for his speeches than to try to resolve the nation's economic problems.

"It appears that luring students and crowds for the government is more important than tackling unemployment and inflation," Mousavi said in comments posted Saturday on his campaign website.

Iran's official media have imposed a news blackout on Wednesday's accident, but the report got out on a parliament- ary website loyal to the nation's hard-liners.

A posting on that site said a bus carrying students from the southern town of Fasa was involved in an accident that killed a student during a 125-mile journey to the city of Shiraz for the president's appearance at a stadium.

The official IRNA news agency, in reporting Wednesday's speech, said it took the president three hours to make what would normally be a 15-minute trip to the stadium because of huge crowds of well-wishers.

IRNA called Wednesday's turnout a "spontaneous move on the part of people who love Ahmadinejad."

Reformists, however, painted a different picture.

"Closing down schools and departments and forcing students, clerks and soldiers to attend a welcome ceremony for government officials is nothing new but at what price?" the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli said Saturday.

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