Hard-line supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday criticized him over a decision to appoint a controversial figure as first vice president who once said Iranians and Israelis were friends.
The criticism was the latest setback for Ahmadinejad, who has been under siege by opposition supporters who claim he stole last month's election from Mir Hossein Mousavi. It was also 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.
Authorities have cracked down violently and have arrested hundreds, including 40 detained 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.
Ahmadinejad has now come under fire from hard-liners for his decision Friday to appoint 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.