TEHRAN (Reuters) - An aide to Iran's supreme leader called on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday to "turn back to the main path," suggesting the Islamic state's highest power may be losing patience with the head of government.
The comments, in an interview with the semi-official Mehr news agency, come as pressure mounts on Ahmadinejad after he sacked several ministers and put himself in direct charge of the Oil Ministry -- a move his critics say was a power grab.
Ali Saeedi, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Revolutionary Guards, concentrated most of his criticism on unnamed "elements" within Ahmadinejad's government, a reference to the president's closest aides who are the usual targets for hardline critics of the government.
"It is really flabbergasting how those who came into the political scene under the slogan of confronting the wealthy elite are nurturing a new undercurrent of elitism in their own shadow," Saeedi said.
The cleric was apparently referring Ahmadinejad's senior aides, particularly chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaie, seen by critics as representing a "deviant current" moving Iran away from Islamic principles and positioning themselves for parliamentary polls next year and the 2013 presidential vote.
He repeated accusations that some of them are corrupt and involved in witchcraft.
"I hope Ahmadinejad will turn back to the main path, having seen this much reaction from the people and from close confidantes," he said, a direct call on the president to make policy or personnel changes.
"If a body like the executive or parliament wants to ... cross red lines or violate principles, it is the leadership that will warn them and, if ultimately the warnings are not effective, will confront them," Saeedi added.
Ahmadinejad has weathered constant sniping about his close aides since his disputed re-election in June 2009 but has managed to hold his team intact, analysts say, because he has enjoyed strong support from Khamenei.
But the supreme leader stopped Ahmadinejad from dismissing his intelligence minister in April, seen as a rare intervention to clip the president's wings, and the latest row over the oil ministry is turning into another test of strength.
Ahmadinejad has refused to relinquish his position as caretaker oil minister, despite a ruling by the state constitutional watchdog, half of whose members are selected by the supreme leader, that he has no legal right to the post.
In what might be a conciliatory gesture, he decided not to attend an OPEC meeting in Vienna next month and will send a minister instead.
Parliamentarians have said they should be given the right to decide on Ahmadinejad's shake-up of several ministries and speaker Ali Larijani said Ahmadinejad's disregard for the legislature was a dangerous attitude.
"Control of government is not something to be proud of ... a country could be proud if the parliament controlled the government's power, because there is always a potential for dictatorship," he said earlier in the week.
Ahmadinejad's supporters say he is being unfairly targeted by factional interests. His media adviser, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, said parliament was fuelling anxiety among the people.
"If the name of this action is not treason to the country and harming the national interest, it is certainly not taking measures to prevent dictatorship," he wrote in an editorial in Iran daily.
(Editing by Louise Ireland)