- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

TEHRAN, Iran | President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s absence from a Cabinet meeting Wednesday - his second no-show this week - and his absence from the public light since April 22 have fueled talk of a serious political crisis in Iran.

The hard-line president disappeared from public view soon after his failed attempt to get Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi to resign, websites and blogs have said.

Mr. Moslehi submitted his resignation about two weeks ago, but it was rejected by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after Mr. Ahmadinejad had accepted it.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also was absent Tuesday from a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, the body that regulates educational and cultural issues, of which he is chairman.

Such absences are quite unusual for Mr. Ahmadinejad, who is featured frequently in the media and is known for his near-daily public appearances and fiery speeches.

State media have not offered any explanation for his absence.

But several websites and blogs close to conservative factions have suggested that Mr. Ahmadinejad, by adopting the policy of an empty chair, has initiated a trial of strength to defend his prerogatives, which he believes are threatened by his ultra-conservative opponents.

Bornanews, which is linked to state news agency IRNA, reported on its website that Mr. Ahmadinejad told a visitor that there was a “conspiracy” to curtail his powers.

The reformist opposition website Rahesabz reported that the president had expressed to another visitor his frustration at not being able to dismiss Mr. Moslehi.

None of these reports was confirmed by a direct source, and several media close to the hard-liners have denied the existence of any differences at the top of the power structure and condemned the talk as “propaganda by enemies” of Iran.

However, conservative website Khabaronline said Wednesday that about 50 lawmakers had signed a petition demanding the president to appear before parliament and explain himself.

Bornanews said Mr. Ahmadinejad has decided to “settle the problem directly” with the supreme leader.

The crisis seems to have been aggravated by accusations from ultraconservatives that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s close aide and chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, was the one who planned Mr. Moslehi’s ouster.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s opponents have rallied against Mr. Mashaie, who has been defended by the president, accusing him of leading a “current of deviation” aimed at destroying the Islamic regime.

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