Iran's top cleric pushes Ahmadinejad on aide
Los Angeles Times / Borzou Daragahi

A dispute among Iran's conservatives escalated Friday as the supreme leader made public a handwritten note ordering President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to remove a vice president. Meanwhile, First Vice President Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei faced new accusations that he and his wife supported an outlawed terrorist group. His removal also was demanded in a Friday sermon by hard-line Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami.The same Basiji militiamen who recently pummeled antigovernment demonstrators themselves marched through the streets protesting the controversial choice of Mashaei.Ahmadinejad's camp showed signs of buckling to the pressure.Mashaei has said he no longer considers himself the first vice president since the letter by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was disclosed, according to a statement late Friday by a presidential advisor that was posted on news websites. The advisor, Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, quoted Mashaei as saying, "In the face of this decree, I don't believe myself to be the first vice president." But Ahmadinejad did not give any indication that he had accepted the decision.The weeklong campaign against Mashaei has been an added challenge for Ahmadinejad, already under pressure from reformists who consider his reelection in June a fraud.According to Khamenei's website, his July 18 letter to Ahmadinejad describes Mashaei's appointment as "contrary to your own and your government's interests." "You are requested to reverse this appointment," i... >>>

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