Allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have accused the media of trying to depose him in a "creeping coup," raising fears of a fresh clampdown on opposition newspapers and Web sites.
The accusation, from the president's allies, coincides with disclosures that Ahmadinejad has authorized his aides to establish a special team to counter "black propaganda against the government."
There has been criticism from the reformist and liberal press that Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver his electoral promises of prosperity and has instead presided over an ailing economy and soaring inflation.
Ahmadinejad's advisers complain he has been insulted by "rumormongers" who represent "economic and political gangs" opposed to his social justice agenda.
In interviews, several supporters signalled that the government was preparing to retaliate.
Mohammad Jafar Behdad, Ahmadinejad's communications adviser, said the government would "come out of its shell" to strike at its enemies.
"We know our adversary and we are going to keep on defending the government against the dirty lies," he told Fars news agency.
"There are some signs of a creeping coup in the press," the combative Culture and Islamic Guidance Minister Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Harandi told the official IRNA news agency.
"When we say a creeping coup, it means a person is moving within a framework of an action to overthrow [the system]," he said.
The allegation echoes charges brought against four Iranian-Americans who are accused of spying after being identified as part of a Washington-led plot aimed at toppling Iran's Islamic government.
It follows the suspensions last week of a reformist newspaper, Ham-Mihan -- ostensibly on a legal technicality -- and of ILNA, an online news agency critical of Ahmadinejad.
Activists have been arrested in a crackdown, which Tehran has justified on national security grounds in the face of pressure from the UN over its nuclear weapons.
However, Mohammad Atrianfar, a liberal commentator and policy director of Ham-Mihan, said that "the government is angry because the media sees the difference between its slogans and its performance."
"But the number of critical newspapers is very low and cannot conduct anything against the government that could be described as a coup," he said.
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