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Ahmadinejad: There's no rift with supreme leader

Ahmadinejad: There's no rift with supreme leader

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By NASSER KARIMI

and LEE KEATH

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begins his second term next week undermined by a deepening feud with his fellow hard-liners and under assault from a pro-reform opposition movement that has shown it can bring out thousands of protesters despite a fierce seven-week-old crackdown.

Ahmadinejad on Friday sought shelter with his top supporter, declaring that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was like a father to him. Ahmadinejad accused his hard-line rivals of trying to drive a wedge between him and the man who sits at the top of Iran's clerical leadership and who has final say in all state matters.

On Monday, Khamenei leads a ceremony formally approving Ahmadinejad's second term, and two days later Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in before parliament despite opposition charges that he won the June 12 presidential election by fraud and that his government is illegitimate.

In a sign of the growing challenge the president also faces from some in the religious establishment, an influential clerical group at the seminary in the holy city of Qom called Friday for the opposition to continue its campaign against the election results.

A statement on the Web site of the Association of Teachers and Researchers also criticized arrests of protesters and abuses in prisons.

"Reports of inhuman torture are heard every day. They don't allow funeral and memorial ceremonies for victims, and unfortunately all this is done under the name of Islam," the group said.

The supreme leader has stuck by Ahmadinejad -- in part because doing otherwise would be a blow to Khamenei's prestige after he strongly declared the election clean. Still, some hard-liners have warned that they would judge the president's administration by his loyalty to Khamenei and that if he falls short he doesn't deserve to lead.

Sensing fragility in the president, rivals within Ahmadinejad's own camp seem to be seeking a greater say in his next administration.

During Friday prayer services in Tehran, a senior ultraconservative cleric bluntly told Ahmadinejad to listen to hard-line lawmakers in the makeup of his new Cabinet. "Before naming individuals for ministries, the government and parliament must coordinate," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said.

He criticized Ahmadinejad's attempt this month to appoint a vice president opposed by hard-liners and his firing this week of his intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi.

Ahmadinejad has frequently feuded with his own conservative camp, in which some complain that he keeps power among a tight circle of associates. His attempt to appoint Esfandiar Rahim Mashai this month as his top vice president angered hard-liners because of past comments by Mashai seen as too pro-Israeli. The supreme leader ordered Mashai's dismissal, but Ahmadinejad stalled, trying to retain him. The president finally obeyed the dismissal order but then named Mashai his chief of staff.

The debacle outraged hard-liners, who accused Ahmadinejad of insufficient loyalty to Khamenei.

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