- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 14, 2012

TEHRAN — Iran’s parliament grilled the president Wednesday on a long list of accusations, including that he mismanaged the nation’s economy and defied the authority of the country’s supreme leader.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the first president in Iran’s history to be hauled before the Iranian parliament, a serious blow to his standing in a conflict pitting him against lawmakers and the country’s powerful clerical establishment.

Iran’s constitution gives parliament the right to question the president, but the body had never before taken a step that undermined Mr. Ahmadinejad’s prestige and could set the stage for his subsequent impeachment should lawmakers determine his answers were unsatisfactory.

Mr. Ahmadinejad sniped back defiantly at his questioners, provoking the wrath of the chamber with sarcasm. The disrespect drew strong condemnation from the lawmakers.

“If the parliament had supported Ahmadinejad before today, it’s now lost,” lawmaker Mohammad Taqi Rahbar said.

Mr. Rahbar, like many other conservatives, supported Mr. Ahmadinejad before April 2011, when the president publicly challenged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, about the appointment of the intelligence chief.

This - combined with the president’s perceived reluctance to heed expert economic advice - has convinced many hard-liners that Mr. Ahmadinejad wanted to expand the powers of the presidency that previously were subordinate to clerical leaders.

Conservative lawmaker Ali Motahari, a prominent opponent of the president, asked 10 questions of Mr. Ahmadinejad in an open session of parliament broadcast live on state radio.

Some of the most hard-hitting focused on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s refusal for 11 days to implement an order from Ayatollah Khamenei to reinstate Intelligence Minister Heidar Moslehi, who had been sacked by the president in April.

Mr. Ahmadinejad flatly denied that he challenged Ayatollah Khamenei, answering as though there had never been any showdown with the supreme leader.

The president, who appeared in parliament with eight senior Cabinet members, also was asked about a dramatic increase in prices that has caused public dissatisfaction and about his failure to provide a budget to Tehran’s subway system.

He was accused of speeding up implementation of an austerity plan to slash energy and food subsidies, raising prices for the middle class and the poor.

Mr. Ahmadinejad claimed his government has provided more money to municipalities than previous governments, and said price increases have nothing to do with slashing subsidies.

Other biting questions were directed at Mr. Ahmadinejad’s support for his protege and top aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who hard-liners accuse of heading a “deviant current” that sought to undermine Islamic rule and compromise the system.

Some critics have even claimed that Mr. Mashaei conjured black magic spells to befuddle Mr. Ahmadinejad.



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