Ahmadinejad's press aide denies arrest reports

TEHRAN Mon Nov 21, 2011 2:01pm GMT

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures during his visit to speak in Shahrekord in Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari province, 521 km (326 miles) southwest of Tehran, November 9, 2011. REUTERS/President.ir/Handout

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures during his visit to speak in Shahrekord in Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari province, 521 km (326 miles) southwest of Tehran, November 9, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/President.ir/Handout

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's media adviser denied on Monday reports in local print media that he had been arrested after holding a news conference.

Iran's conservatives accuse Ahmadinejad of being in the grip of a "deviant current" of advisers seeking to undermine the power of hardliners, including the influential clergy, in the Islamic establishment.

"I am in my office at Iran newspaper building and deny all these arrest allegations," Ali Akbar Javanfekr told Reuters by telephone.

Javanfekr attacked conservative rivals of Ahmadinejad in an interview published on Sunday, the latest sign of damaging rifts within the ruling establishment that have emerged since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009.

The pro-reform Etemad newspaper, which published the interview, was shut down for two months on Sunday for "disseminating lies and insults to officials in the establishment."

"Some red lines must be observed ... the (Etemad) daily should have paid more attention in publishing ... interviews," Culture Minister Mohammad Hosseini was quoted by local media as saying.

Iranian media also reported on Sunday that Javanfekr had been sentenced to a year in jail and banned from journalism for three years over a supplement carried by the state daily Iran which offended women's public decency.

In August the Khatoun (Lady) supplement, which is run by Javanfekr, alleged that the traditional head-to-toe black "chador" worn by Iranian women had its origins in 19th-century Paris, rather than being prescribed by Islam.

The article outraged traditionalist hardliners who had already accused Ahmadinejad's camp of putting secular nationalist values ahead of Iran's Islamic identity.

CRACKS SURFACED

Cracks in the establishment surfaced in April when Iran's most powerful figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, confronted Ahmadinejad publicly by reinstating his sacked intelligence minister.

"Since then, the tension has increased between hardliners and Ahmadinejad's camp," said analyst Hossein Sharifi.

Khamenei, eying the troubled economy and the risks of contagion from popular revolts sweeping the Arab world, has no intention of letting Ahmadinejad's rivals unseat him as this could harm the clerical establishment, analysts say.

"Removing Ahmadinejad might revive street protests that harmed the system after the 2009 election," said Sharifi.

The disputed 2009 vote, which the opposition says was rigged, triggered Iran's worst unrest in three decades and divided the elites that have ruled since the 1979 revolution.

Analysts expect months of power tussles, particularly ahead of the parliamentary election in March 2012.

"Khamenei backers will never allow the Ahmadinejad camp to win a majority of (seats in) parliament," said a political analyst who asked not to be named. "That is why they are clipping Ahmadinejad's wings by attacking his aides."

In moves to contain Ahmadinejad, several of his political allies have been detained and his close associate, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, has been accused of sorcery and corruption.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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