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Iran's president promotes controversial aide widely viewed as his preferred successor

Iran's president has promoted a controversial aide to a high-profile post in a move widely viewed as an attempt to boost the adviser's profile ahead of his expected candidacy in next year's presidential elections.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday appointed Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei the head of the secretariat of the Non-Aligned Movement, the bloc of developing nations Iran currently heads. The post gives Mashaei much-needed international experience.

Ahmadinejad cannot run in Iran's presidential elections in June because of term limits, and he is widely believed to be grooming Mashaei as his successor.

The move is seen as a challenge to Iran's powerful hardliners, who denounce Mashaei as the head of a "deviant current" that they say seeks to undermine the country's ruling Islamic system.