TEHRAN — Ruling conservatives in Iran kept up their criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inner circle on Monday, despite a plea for calm by all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In the latest broadside, Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative to the elite Revolutionary Guards, accused Ahmadinejad's entourage of seeking to weaken the foundations of the Islamic republic.
"The current of deviation seeks to weaken the foundations of the Islamic establishment... I believe this movement is the gravest danger in the history of Shiite Islam," Mehr news agency quoted Zolnour as saying.
"Current of deviation" is a term coined by Ahmadinejad opponents to define an ideological movement they believe to be too liberal, nationalist and not nearly religious enough to coexist with the ruling conservatives in Iran.
The conservatives accuse Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a close Ahmadinejad relative, confidant and chief of staff, of leading the movement.
"The head of this new sedition should be removed if the government wants to be clean... We hope this problem will be resolved, but it seems very unlikely such a thing will happen in the near future," Zolnour was quoted as saying.
On Saturday, on the 22nd anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's death, Ayatollah Khamenei called on the ruling conservatives to end the crisis, urging respect for diversity of political opinion within the regime.
"One has committed an immoral act if he insults his brothers... who disagree with his political view but we know are loyal to the Islamic system and Islam," Khamenei told hundreds of thousands of supporters at Khomeini's mausoleum.
Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, another conservative, said with this approach Khamenei was trying to manage the crisis while also preventing the fall of the government "because the price of its fall would be heavier."
But Alamolhoda, quoted by the ISNA news agency, also said the people must be told that "the current of deviation has latched onto the executive branch like a virus."
For several months, conservative figures have repeatedly demanded the sacking of Mashaie, who despite the heavy criticism has so far enjoyed Ahmadinejad's unwavering support.
On Sunday, parliament speaker Ali Larijani also weighed into Mashaie for advocating an "Iranian Islam" school of thought, an idea which has infuriated conservative clerics.
"The (executive) officials should avoid making theories (on religious issues). This is a task for religious schools," Larijani said in remarks reported by ISNA.
On Monday, a top Ahmadinejad adviser responded to the ongoing criticism by urging ultra-conservatives to heed the supreme leader's call for calm.
"For more than a month, a special political group... has used all political tools and propaganda to launch baseless accusations against officials and figures" in the government, Ali Akbar Javanfekr said.
"Their intention has been to weaken the government and president in the eyes of the people," Javanfekr, Ahmadinejad's media adviser, wrote in an editorial in the government-run Iran newspaper.
Javanfekr suggested that the best way to resolve the crisis was for the conservatives to "acknowledge the strategic mistake" they had committed.
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