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Iran swears in Ahmadinejad; crisis persists

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Dogged by allegations of election fraud and battered by some within his own conservative camp, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad limped defiantly into his second term as Iran's president Wednesday, vowing to strive for "national greatness."

As he was sworn in, the empty seats of reformist and moderate politicians boycotting the ceremony gaped from the gallery inside the parliament building while police fired tear gas and swung truncheons to quell a demonstration outside. Both highlighted the domestic challenges Ahmadinejad faces in attempting to consolidate power and implement his hard-line agenda.

Ahmadinejad told lawmakers and dignitaries he would dedicate himself to serving the Iranian people and to taking bold steps on the world stage.

"It is not important who voted for whom. What we need is national greatness," he said in a speech broadcast live on television after he was sworn in by the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. "We are representing a great nation. It needs great decisions and great deeds. We need to take great steps."

But Ahmadinejad might find achieving greatness a long, hard road, analysts said. He has built his political base on populist economic giveaways and a defiant foreign policy that have won him the fealty of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but might be difficult to maintain. His unyielding drive may have endeared him to some but also has led to significant clashes with his own hard-line camp.

"He is facing problems and disputes even among his own … faction let alone a widening gap with the people outside the government," said Ahmad Shirzad, a political analyst and physicist. "Ahmadinejad started his second term in abnormal condition, and his popularity is low and weak."

The Obama administration has said it would recognize Ahmadinejad as Iran's leader, although governments in the United States, Britain, France and Germany have said they would not send him a customary note of congratulations. Ahmadinejad responded with characteristic defiance.

"No one in Iran is waiting for your congratulations," he said.

Despite such bluster, Ahmadinejad faces an emboldened, savvy opposition camp. The unpredictable and loosely organized protest movement continues to defy authorities.

Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and other reformist politicians continue to question the election results and the government's legitimacy.

"Neither Mousavi nor I have stood back," Mahdi Karroubi, longtime former parliamentary speaker who boycotted the inauguration, said in comments quoted by Persian-language news Web sites. "We will continue our protests. We will never work with this government. We won't damage the government, but we will criticize its actions."

Ahmadinejad's next challenge will be forming a Cabinet. "He has to give in to the lawmakers and get their consensus," said Sadegh Zibakalam, a Tehran University political scientist. "If he doesn't want to take that course and be stubborn the way he has always been, I believe he will have a great deal of problems with parliament."

Iran swears in Ahmadinejad; crisis persists 08/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 9:50pm]
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