TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, already at the center of a post-election crisis, came under criticism from his own hard-line supporters Sunday for appointing a first vice president who once caused an outcry by saying Iranians were friends of Israelis.
Ahmadinejad has been under siege by opposition supporters who claim he stole last month's election from pro-reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. The latest criticism was a reminder that while hard-liners have supported Ahmadinejad in the election dispute, they often criticized him before the vote, especially over his handling of Iran's economy.
The disagreements among hard-liners had been set aside since the June 12 election as they faced hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters who protested in the streets over what they said was massive election fraud.
Authorities have cracked down violently and have arrested hundreds. They detained 40 Friday after police clashed with thousands of protesters, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported Sunday. Some of those arrested were eventually released, it said.
The clashes followed a sermon by a top cleric who criticized the government's response to the election dispute.
Also Friday, Ahmadinejad appointed Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, his son's father-in-law, as his first vice president. Mashai angered hard-liners in 2008 when he said Iranians were "friends of all people in the world — even Israelis."
Mashai was serving as vice president in charge of tourism and cultural heritage at the time. Iran has 12 vice presidents, but the first vice president is the most important because he leads Cabinet meetings in the absence of the president.
Hossein Shariatmadari, an aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and editor of hard-line Kayhan newspaper, said Sunday that Mashai's appointment caused "a wave of surprise mixed with regret and concern" among Ahmadinejad supporters.
"Many of the closest individuals to the president strongly oppose the appointment," he added.
Ahmadinejad himself has repeatedly called for Israel's destruction, and most hard-liners consider the Jewish state Iran's archenemy.
Khamenei, who has supported Ahmadinejad in the election dispute, called Mashai's comments about Israelis "illogical" shortly after he said them but urged critics to abandon their call for the president to fire his relative.
Mashai also angered many of Iran's top clerics in 2008 when he attended a ceremony in Turkey where women performed a traditional dance. Conservative interpretations of Islam forbid women from dancing.