x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ahmadinejad's VP resigns

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caved into pressure and allowed the resignation of his top deputy after a week-long standoff.

TEHRAN // The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caved into pressure from hardline clerics and the country's supreme leader and allowed the resignation of his top deputy after a week-long standoff. For days, the president had resisted pressure from hardliners, including a direct order from the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to dismiss his choice for the key post of first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who last year angered conservatives when he made friendly comments toward Israel. The final blow, however, appeared to be the public reading on state television on Friday of the order issued earlier by Ayatollah Khamenei to dismiss Mr Mashai because he is "contrary to the interest of you and the government". The issue created a rare rift between Mr Ahmadinejad and the hardliners that form the bedrock of his support and comes at a particular sensitive time as he is battling opposition reformists who accuse him of winning the June 12 presidential elections through fraud. "After the announcement of the exalted supreme leader's order, Mr Mashai doesn't consider himself first vice president," IRNA quoted presidential aide Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi as saying late on Friday. The resignation capped a day of renewed pressure that featured conservative student street demonstrations and Friday sermons railing against Mr Mashai's appointment. Despite all the pressure, Mr Ahmadinejad had pleaded for more time to explain his reasons for choosing a man he had described as a "pious, caring, honest and creative caretaker for Iran". Mr Mashai's son is also married to the president's daughter. The president even continued to back his man after his greatest supporter and the supreme leader of the country issued a private order on Monday telling him that the appointment "causes a rift and disillusionment among your supporters. The aforementioned appointment must be cancelled and consider it null and void". Reading the order publicly on Friday dramatically increased the pressure on Mr Ahmadinejad, and further refusal to act would have amounted to a flagrant and public defiance of the supreme leader. The issue was also the topic of the main Friday prayer sermon in Tehran. Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said that "now that he (Khamenei) has expressed his opinion, there is no room for delay anymore".

*AP