An influential former Iranian president on Tuesday criticised the government in unusually blunt terms, saying that it is not taking US-led sanctions seriously and that Iran could become a "dictatorship."
The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani represent a rebuke of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though Rafsanjani did not mention him by name. Rafsanjani was also quoted by the semi-official Iranian Labor News Agency as indirectly saying that the government is not adhering to the Islamic Republic's laws.
Ahmadinejad has been under increasing pressure from multiple power centres in Iran. Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad have long been rivals with Rafsanjani thought to be behind the movement that challenged the government after last year's disputed elections.
A series of public disagreements between Ahmadinejad's government and the parliament, influential clerics and even some of the president's own ministers have led to a crisis atmosphere, heightening political tensions.
The government has said the sanctions stemming from Iran's controversial nuclear program have only strengthened the Islamic Republic. Ahmadinejad has called them "pathetic" and less effective than "a used handkerchief."
But business owners complain the prices of raw materials are skyrocketing because of shortages.
"We have never been faced with so many sanctions," Rafsanjani said at the start of a meeting of an influential clerical council. "I would like to ask you and all the officials to take the sanctions seriously and not as a joke."
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