Iran Ayatollah Urges Ahmadinejad to Sack 'Friend of Israel' VP

Hard-line cleric says Iran's establishment is too powerful to be harmed by reformist protests.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, who led Friday prayers in Tehran, once again called on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to sack his acting president, Esfandir Rahim-Mashaie.

"I hope that the president will pay attention to critics and especially the demand by the supreme leader ¬Ayatollah Ali Khamenei¬ and revise the appointment of his first vice-president," the ayatollah said.

Ahmadinejad appointed Rahim-Mashaie was last week as first vice-president, making him de-facto acting president until his own inauguration on Sunday.

"The demand by the leadership should be implemented by the president at the earliest term without any hesitation," said the cleric, himself a supporter of Ahmadinejad.

Rahim-Mashaie's appointment led to widespread criticism even within pro-Ahmadinejad circles, owing to an earlier remark by the vice-president that Iran's political differences with Israel had nothing to do with Israelis and Jews.

His remark that Iran was also a friend of the Israeli people sparked particularly harsh protests and calls for his resignation. Rahim-Mashaie at that time served as vice-president and head of the tourism organization.

Parliament also demanded the vice-president be sacked, or they were to take the issue to Supreme Leader Khamenei who, according to constitution, has the final say on all state affairs.

Khamenei has reportedly informed the president already about his wish that Rahim-Mashaie should be replaced.

But Ahmadinejad has ignored the criticism against Rahim-Mashaie - who is also the father-in-law of his son - even though he himself is known for his harsh anti-Israeli stance.

"Rahim-Mashaie is one of the persons most loyal to the revolution and a servant of the people. He has been appointed as first vice- president and he will stay in this position," Ahmadinejad said.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami also criticized the opposition's continued claims of fraud in the June 12 presidential election and their refusal to acknowledge Ahmadinejad's re-election.

The ayatollah especially condemned a call by former president Mohammad Khatami on holding a referendum on the legitimacy of Ahmadinejad's presidency.

"Hello, good morning, the referendum was made on June 12 and over 24.5 out of 40 million voted for Ahmadinejad and therefore the president's government is absolutely legitimate," Ahmad Khatami said.

He reiterated that both the leadership and the establishment were too powerful to be harmed by the protests.

He also criticized opposition groups of having sought support from outside Iran and Western media for their activities, saying these supports would eventually prove futile.