Iran's supreme leader blasts Ahmadinejad for corruption claims
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, faced a rare backlash from some of the country's most powerful officials today after a furious television debate in which he labelled many of his critics corrupt, The Guardian reported.
In the most significant development, Ahmadinejad appeared to have irked the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over his performance in Wednesday night's debate with Mir Hossein Mousavi, his main opponent in next week's presidential election.
"One doesn't like to see a nominee, for the sake of proving himself, seeking to negate somebody else," Khamenei said in a speech commemorating the 20th anniversary of the death of the Iranian revolution's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. "I have no problem with debate, dialogue and criticism but these debates must take place within a religious framework."
Khamenei has previously given Ahmadinejad his public backing and his support is considered essential if the president is to win a second term. Ahmadinejad may have been relieved to note that the supreme leader also found fault with his rival's rhetoric, particularly a segment where Mousavi criticised the incumbent for his "extremist" foreign policy.
"I do not accept the sayings of those who imagine that our nation has become belittled in the world because of its commitment to its principles," Khamenei said, adding "this path will continue until final victory".
Ahmadinejad's accusations of corruption prompted a string of senior figures - including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani - to demand a right of reply.
Apparently trailing in the opinion polls, Ahmadinejad attempted to link Mousavi - the main reformist candidate - to the past governments of Rafsanjani and the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatam, which he said had been guilty of widespread graft. Among others, he singled out Rafsanjani's sons as well as Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the current head of the supreme leader's inspectorate.
Khamenei's criticisms echoed those of Mousavi, who told Ahmadinejad during the debate: "This is a sin. We are Muslims, we believe in God. We cannot name people like that and accuse them."
The most remarkable part of an acerbic encounter came when Ahmadinejad held up a file apparently referring to Mousavi's wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and questioned her qualifications. "Can I speak about the education background of a lady with you - shall I," Ahmadinejad said in a goading tone. He accused Rahnavard, who has been campaigning with her husband, of gaining two degrees illegally and starting a PhD without sitting an entrance exam.
He also said she had become a university lecturer and chancellor without the necessary qualifications.
Mousavi, taken aback, replied by telling viewers that they should vote for him "if you want to change this atmosphere of so easily accusing other people".
After the debate, pro-Mousavi students took to the streets of Tehran chanting: "Ahmadinejad, impolite person, shame on you. Leave this country alone."
One Mousavi supporter was reported to have died in clashes with Ahmadinejad's followers in the eastern city of Mashhad.
Tensions have been rising ahead of the election. A bombing in a mosque last week killed 25 people in the south-west and another bout of unrest left five more dead on Monday. Khamenei has rebuked the west for meddling in Iranian affairs, and yesterday said that foreigners were trying to undermine Iran ahead of the vote, by insinuating that results would be falsified and the vote would not be competitive.
"During the past two or three months, foreign radio programmes have been tarnishing the elections, making people pessimistic," he said, accusing foreign media of "confiscating the hope of the Iranian people."