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Ahmadinejad folds over vice presidential appointee after ayatollah's opposition goes public

The passenger plane crashed Friday after landing in Mashhad, Iran, 600 miles from Tehran.

Associated Press

The passenger plane crashed Friday after landing in Mashhad, Iran, 600 miles from Tehran.

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad caved under pressure from hardline clerics and the country's supreme leader Friday and allowed the resignation of his top deputy after a weeklong standoff.

For days, the president had resisted pressure from hard-liners, including a direct order from the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to dismiss his choice for the key post of first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who last year angered conservatives when he made friendly comments toward Israel.

The final blow appeared to be the reading on state TV of the order issued earlier by Khamenei to dismiss Mashai because he is "contrary to the interest of you and the government."

The issue created a rare rift between Ahmadinejad and the hard-liners that form the bedrock of his support and comes at a particularly sensitive time as he is battling opposition reformists who accuse him of fraud in the June 12 election.

"After the announcement of the exalted supreme leader's order, Mashai doesn't consider himself first vice president," IRNA quoted presidential aide Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi as saying late Friday.

The resignation capped a day of renewed pressure that featured conservative student street demonstrations and sermons railing against the appointment.

Despite all the pressure, Ahmadinejad had pleaded for more time to explain his reasons for choosing a man he had described as a "pious, caring, honest and creative caretaker for Iran." Mashai's son is also married to the president's daughter.

The president continued to back his man after his greatest supporter and the supreme leader of the country issued a private order Monday telling him the appointment "causes a rift and disillusionment among your supporters. The aforementioned appointment must be canceled, and consider it null and void."

Reading the order publicly Friday dramatically increased the pressure on Ahmadinejad, and further refusal to act would have amounted to a flagrant defiance of the supreme leader.

Mashai angered hard-liners in 2008 when he said Iranians were "friends of all people in the world — even Israelis." He was serving as vice president of tourism and heritage.

TEHRAN, Iran — An Iranian plane carrying 153 passengers and crew skidded off the runway and crashed Friday while landing in northeast Iran, killing at least 17, the state news agency said.

Among the dead was the manager of privately owned Aria Airlines, the plane's operator.

Television footage showed the plane sitting at an angle, its tail resting awkwardly on the ground and the mangled front end pointing toward the sky. The rest of the aircraft appeared largely intact.

The crash came just over a week after another Iranian passenger plane nose-dived into the ground shortly after takeoff, killing all 168 people aboard.

Iran's aging fleet is plagued by maintenance problems, blamed on financial straits and U.S. sanctions that make it harder to get spare parts.

The official IRNA news agency reported that in Friday's crash, the plane's tires failed on landing, and the craft skidded into a wall. No wall was visible in the footage broadcast on TV.

The Russian-made Ilyushin-62 plane had flown from the capital, Tehran, to Mashhad.

Ahmadinejad folds over vice presidential appointee after ayatollah's opposition goes public 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 9:32pm]
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