A leading hardline cleric on Friday defended Iran's crackdown on improperly veiled women, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he opposed the clampdown.
"Nobody has the right to prevent the police from acting against bad hijab (veil)," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in a sermon at the Muslim weekly prayers in Tehran.
"Although we have many political and economic problems, the question of moral security cannot be forgotten under the pretext that there are more important problems," said Jannati, who heads the powerful Guardian Council which supervises elections and vets legislation.
By law, women in Iran must be covered from head to foot, with their hair completely veiled, and social interaction is banned between men and women who are not related.
Ahmadinejad came under fire from fellow hardliners after saying he opposed a social crackdown targeting dress and behaviour, mainly of women.
In a televised interview last weekend, he said he was "strongly against such actions. It is impossible for such actions to be successful."
In published comments on Wednesday, another senior cleric responded by accusing Ahmadinejad of undermining efforts to fight "corruption."
"The president in his interview did not appreciate the sacred wave which advocates veiling and chastity, and he belittled it," Ahmad Khatami said in comments carried by the moderate Shargh newspaper.
The head of parliament's clerical faction, Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, also interpreted Ahmadinejad's comments as a "green light to immodest dress."
"Those who voted for you were the fully veiled people. The badly veiled 'greens' did not vote for you, so you'd better consider what pleases God is not pleasing a number of corrupt" people, Shargh quoted Rahbar as saying.
The Green Movement of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi won over Iran's urban youth by pledging more social freedom in last year's disputed presidential election, which was won by Ahmadinejad.
Iran's morality police have returned to the streets, confiscating cars whose male drivers harass women, local media have said, without clarifying what amounts to harassment.
The reports say the crackdown has become a major issue for Iran's predominantly young population, with police or hardline militiamen stopping cars with young men or women inside to question their relationship.
The Islamic dress code for women is also being more strictly enforced.