AFP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial choice for vice president on Monday denied reports he has quit, despite his appointment ruffling feathers even among hardliners.
By Siavosh Ghazi
TEHRAN (AFP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's controversial choice for vice president on Monday denied reports he has quit, despite his appointment ruffling feathers even among hardliners.
Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, considered a close confidant of the newly re-elected president, dismissed the media reports of his resignation as "lies," according to his personal website.
"Certain Internet sites published a report about Mr Mashaie's resignation as first vice president in a coordinated action aimed at tarnishing the government," it said.
"This is a lie, and these rumours have been spread by the enemies… of the government."
Ahmadinejad's press advisor denounced what he said was pressure on the president from even his own supporters, after a number of top conservatives called for him to rescind Mashaie's appointment.
But the presidential website still showed a large photo of Mashaie and the announcement of his nomination even as his critics continued to make their voices heard.
On Sunday, state-owned English-language channel Press TV reported that Mashaie had resigned just three days after his appointment, but there was no independent confirmation.
Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son, is an outspoken figure who last year earned the wrath of many, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for saying Iran is a "friend of the Israeli people."
His nomination as first vice president had ruffled feathers among conservatives deeply sensitive to any breach of the long-standing taboo on relations of any kind with archfoe Israel.
During his first four-year term, Ahmadinejad unleashed numerous anti-Israel tirades, saying the Jewish state was doomed to be wiped off the map and describing the Holocaust as a myth.
The open resistance to Mashaie's appointment is a sign of the difficulties Ahmadinejad is likely to face in forming a new cabinet after his bitterly disputed re-election in a June 12 vote that his main challenger denounced as a "shameful fraud".
His detractors have made clear that they have no intention of giving up their protest campaign, and on Friday former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made a hard-hitting address critical of the election and subsequent crackdown on the opposition.
But Ahmadinejad's press advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr insisted that the president would not bow to the calls for Mashaie, currently vice president for tourism, to go.
"The president nominated Mr Rahim Mashaie as first vice president based on his brilliant record of success," Javanfekr said, saying he had the "full confidence" of Ahmadinejad.
He said the controversy over Mashaie's remarks about Israel was now "closed" as he had acknowledged he had made a declaration outside his field of competence.
"People approve of the president and say he is competent but at the same time raise questions about his decisions… why are they putting pressure on the president?"
The leading conservative newspaper Kayhan, which is close to Ahmadinejad, and hardline cleric Ahmad Khatami, have called for the president to change his mind.
"This nomination is unacceptable," said conservative MP Hamid Reza Fouladgar.
Reformists in Iran are continuing their protests against Ahmadinejad's re-election, with a group of clerics founded by former president Mohammad Khatami calling on Monday for a referendum over the electoral process.
"As millions of Iranians have lost confidence in the electoral process, the Association of Combatant Clerics insist on the organisation of a referendum… by independent bodies," it said in a statement, without elaborating.
The group also voiced its support for Rafsanjani, who in his first comments since the election said the vote had broken the trust of the people, and called for the release of hundreds detained in the unrest unleashed over the return of Ahmadinejad.