Iran arrests Ahmadinejad ally: report

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 23, 2011 10:30 AM
Iran arrests Ahmadinejad ally: report

By Parisa Hafezi and Hashem Kalantari

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran arrested an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, the latest move by opponents of the president to try to weaken his position.

Mohammad Sharif Malekzadeh, an ally of the president's controversial chief of staff, is accused of corruption. Hardline politicians have also accused him of being part of a "deviant current" close to Ahmadinejad which has tried to undermine the role of Iran's clerical hierarchy by promoting secular ideas.

He denies the charges.

"Malekzadeh was arrested a few hours ago ... soon a statement detailing his arrest will be issued," Fars said.

Hardline politicians, who backed Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009, forced Malekzadeh to resign as deputy foreign minister on Tuesday. Malekzadeh said he resigned to protect Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi from impeachment.

Political analysts say a deepening rift between the president and his hardline opponents, including politicians and senior clerics, are leaving Ahmadinejad a lame duck as he enters the final two years of his presidency.

But few think Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, given a troubled economy and the risk of popular unrest spreading from the Arab world, would allow parliament to unseat the president and jeopardize stability.

Iran's most powerful figure, Khamenei, who endorsed Ahmadinejad's re-election, sided with the president's critics in April by reinstating an intelligence minister who had been sacked.

Analysts interpreted the move as an attempt to clip the president's wings after he tried to grab more power. In the past few months, some of Ahmadinejad's allies have been dismissed, detained and banned from holding office on various grounds.

The president's chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, is accused by hardliners of being head of the "deviant current." Malekzadeh was also head of the High Council of Iranian Expatriates' Affairs, set up by Mashaie.

Some senior clerics and members of the elite Revolutionary Guards have called for Mashaie's dismissal.

So far, Ahmadinejad has shown no sign of withdrawing his support for Mashaie, whose daughter is married to the president's son.

Some politicians say Mashaie is mounting a campaign to make sure Ahmadinejad's allies win in a March 2012 parliamentary vote and also in the 2013 presidential race.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Elizabeth Piper)