Iranian cleric warns president amid power struggle

AP News
Posted: May 13, 2011 1:52 PM
Iranian cleric warns president amid power struggle

A hard-line senior Iranian cleric and former Mahmoud Ahmadinejad loyalist on Friday issued a veiled warning to the president, saying wrong steps can lead to loss of popular support _ the second time this week the cleric has opposed the president.

The remarks by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati are the latest in a series of rebukes to the president, who has been locked for weeks in a simmering confrontation with Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The dispute appears to be part of a power struggle ahead of parliamentary elections next year and the vote for Ahmadinejad's successor in mid-2013.

Jannati, who until recently was a staunch Ahmadinejad supporter, did not refer to the president by name but stressed that "people do not depend on individuals" who hold office.

"Everyone should pay attention, no matter who he is," Jannati said during a Friday sermon in Tehran. "If he puts his foot on the wrong path, the popular supports will vanish."

On Wednesday, Jannati _ who heads the Guardian Council, which oversees government adherence to the constitution _ crossed swords with Ahmadinejad for the first time, when his watchdog slammed the president for trying to merge Cabinet ministries without parliamentary approval.

The council rejected Ahmadinejad's attempt and Jannati ruled that the new ministers would have to be submitted to the parliament for a vote of confidence.

Jannati's moves signal the president's support base may be melting after he challenged the all-encompassing authority of Khamenei. The internal political confrontations involve hard-liners on both sides locked in disputes over who should control the next parliament and government.

The troubles emerged last month when Khamenei vetoed Ahmadinejad's attempt to fire his intelligence minister, Heidar Moslehi, and take control of the intelligence department himself.

Although Ahmadinejad later publicly backed down in the confrontation with Khamenei, it emboldened his hardline rivals in parliament to challenge him. Ahmadinejad was re-elected president in 2009 in a hotly disputed vote that deeply split the country.

During Friday's sermon, Jannati also assailed unnamed political circles who he claimed were distributing cash, taking part in suspicious activities and sending signals to the United States _ which Iran considers an enemy _ to gain a stronger footing ahead of next elections.

"One day the people and the establishment will settle the score with them," the cleric added.

In the past weeks, authorities have reportedly arrested up to 25 Ahmadinejad loyalists and blocked half a dozen websites connected to them. Among those arrested is cleric Abbas Amirifar, prayer leader at the presidential palace.

Last Friday, another hard-line cleric, Kazem Sedighi, warned Ahmadinejad over attempt to get rid of Moslehi, reminding the president that Khamenei "is above the constitution ... his powers are absolute."