TEHRAN — Iran's ruling conservatives have increased the pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to "obey" the Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying his latest pledges did not go far enough.
"The president said he would dishearten the enemies of the regime (in accepting Khamenei's authority) but that is not enough. We are waiting for him to act on his words," said influential religious authority Hojatoleslam Kazem Sediqi, widely quoted in Sunday papers.
Ahmadinejad told a cabinet meeting on May 1 that he would obey Khamenei like "a son would his father" in an attempt to draw a line on the stand-off between the two leaders.
The president had last month boycotted all public duties for eight days after Khamenei vetoed his sacking of Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi, an ally of the supreme leader.
But later on Sunday, he reiterated his allegiance to the Velayat-e Faqih system of supreme leader in Iran.
"The government with strength in word and action will continue to defend Velayat-e Faqih," Ahmadinejad said at a cabinet meeting on Sunday, quoted on state television's website.
The clash over control of the intelligence ministry triggered a conservative backlash against the president that shows little sign of abating.
One Ahmadinejad ally, presidential prayer leader Hojatoleslam Abbas Amirifar, was arrested May 1 for his murky role in the distribution of a DVD announcing the imminent return of the hidden imam, whom Shiite Muslims believe to be the ultimate saviour of humankind who will bring justice to the world.
A court also insinuated the arrest of a "sorcerer" who was allegedly linked to Ahmadinejad's chief of staff, Esfandiyar Rahim Mashaie.
"Certain people within the regime have forgotten the values of the revolution and seek to misrepresent Islam ... but the people do not follow demons or jinns, and will not tolerate such deviance," warned General Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of the Revolutionary Guards, who reports directly to the supreme leader.
But Ahmadinejad on Sunday played down the row.
"The country can only be built with wisdom and sacrifice. For this, we believe those who these days speak of the influence of fortune-tellers and jinns in the performance of the government are only making jokes," he said.
Mashaie has long been a thorn in the side of the religious ultra-conservatives, who say he is too nationalistic, too liberal and wields too much influence over the president.
Regime hardliners also accuse him of "deviating" the revolution and have petitioned the president several times to get rid of him, so far to no avail.
For the past week, religious conservatives have been issuing daily reminders of the president's duty of obedience to the supreme leader.
"To obey and submit to the supreme leader is a religious duty that has nothing to do with politics," said Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, Ahmadinejad's former mentor, who added that the president's "legitimacy is based upon the approval of the supreme leader and not the popular vote."
Hojatoleslam Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative to the Revolutionary Guards, echoed the message: "Neither the president nor anyone has any legitimacy without the order of the supreme leader," he said, asking Ahmadinejad to "correct" his position.
The conservative parliament, dominated by hardliners, has opposed the government frequently in recent months.
It has also upped the pressure on Ahmadinejad, launching a petition demanding that he come before parliament to explain his behaviour, Mehr news agency reported, adding it had already garnered 90 of the 175 signatures required.
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