Sat, Nov 19, 2005 - Page 6 News List

New Iranian president clearing out opposition

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Iran is facing political paralysis as its newly elected president carries out a widescale purge of government institutions, bringing accusations that he is undertaking a coup d'etat.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's clearout of his opponents began last month but is much more sweeping than previously understood and has now reached almost every branch of government.

Dozens of deputy ministers have been sacked this month in several departments, as well the heads of the state insurance and privatization organizations. Last week, seven state bank presidents were summarily dismissed in what an Iranian source described as "a coup d'etat."

An informed Iranian source with first-hand knowledge of all the main political and clerical figures in the country said: "Ahmadinejad is defying everybody. He does whatever he wants and considers it to be right. This is not how things are done in Iran."

The upheaval at the highest government levels in Tehran follows the dismissal of four senior ambassadors and has raised questions about Iran's ability to conclude negotiations on its nuclear program which are due to come to a head at a UN meeting in Vienna next week.

Ahmadinejad drew international condemnation for his comments about wiping Israel off the map. Concern about the new government's isolationist stance has been increased by claims from British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Iran is aiding bombmakers attacking British troops in southeast Iraq.

Growing resistance inside Iran to Ahmadinejad, who was unexpectedly elected in June, is coming from several senior figures and sections of the media.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president who was a runner-up in the election, denounced the purge and, in comments reported by Iranian news agencies, suggested the president should be reined in.

"A tendency in Iran is trying to banish competent officials and it is harming the country like a plague," Rafsanjani said. "Our society has been divided into two poles and some people are behaving aggressively."

Hassan Rohani, sacked as Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, told Tehran newspapers that the negotiations with the West were being mishandled by the new regime. Former president Mohammad Khatami also voiced concern that Ahmadinejad was exceeding his powers.

In a sign of divisions at the top of the clerical establishment, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has until now supported Ahmadinejad, said "irregularities" in the government's behavior would not be tolerated.

Iranian sources said opinion in the conservative-controlled majlis [parliament], which initially welcomed the president's election, was becoming uneasy.

There has been a series of rows about Ahmadinejad's nominees to top ministry jobs, including the key oil ministry. The parliamentary foreign relations committee has tabled questions about the unprecedented sackings of the ambassadors to London, Paris, Berlin and Kuala Lumpur.

"There is a very tense situation. Ahmadinejad has made a very bad start and needs to get attuned to political realities," the Iranian source said.

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