Ahmadinejad rows with old foe Ali Larijani over merging Iranian ministries

Fight between Iran's president and its parliament speaker comes after rift between Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, second right, with the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, centre, and the Iranian parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, left, and other Iranian leaders during a religious ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Mohammed.
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TEHRAN // A dispute has erupted between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, over plans to merge several ministries, reports said yesterday.

The row comes shortly after an unprecedented rift between Mr Ahmadinejad and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, which resulted in the president disappearance from public life for almost two weeks.

Mr Larijani, a critic of Mr Ahmadinejad, who defeated him in the 2005 presidential elections, accused the president of "violating the law" by failing to follow parliamentary procedures on the merger of ministries.

The reformist Arman newspaper yesterday quoted Mr Larijani as saying in remarks aimed at Mr Ahmadinejad: "If the government has ambiguities in understanding the law, the parliament can explain the law to the government."

At the centre of the dispute are government proposals to merge several ministries, including energy and oil, to reduce their numbers to 17 from 21.

Mr Ahmadinejad in turn criticised Mr Larijani, saying parliament should mind its own business.

"The respected speaker of the parliament apparently thinks that he is the manifestation of the law, but this is not a true assumption," Mr Ahmadinejad said.

"One should pay attention not to disturb and pollute the atmosphere of the country with such assumptions."

Mr Ahmadinejad said Mr Larijani himself had written the law, "but he had better read the law once again today.

"Certain people think that they are the employer and the government is their labourer, but it is better that the respected majlis [parliament] focuses on its duties and allows the executive branch to carry out its duties based on the law," Mr Ahmadinejad said.

Meanwhile, the Guardians Council, which oversees the electoral process as well as laws passed by the parliament, has supported the assembly in the dispute, according to the ISNA news agency.

Tension between the conservative-dominated parliament and the government has been heightened by the rivalry between Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Larijani that first arose when they competed in the 2005 presidential election.

The two men have clashed often in the past, but never so bitterly in public.

The political tussle comes after Mr Ahmadinejad found himself in a battle with Ayatollah Khamenei.

Last month Mr Ahmadinejad disappeared from public life briefly after Ayatollah Khamenei overruled his decision to dismiss the intelligence minister, Heydar Moslehi.

He returned to his office on May 1 after the two settled their differences.

On the day of his return, Mr Ahmadinejad told a cabinet meeting he would obey Ayatollah Khamenei like "a son would his father".

Mr Larijani, like Mr Moslehi, is considered close to Ayatollah Khamenei, and Mr Ahmadinejad's opponents have criticised the president, accusing him of disobeying the ayatollah.

The ultra-conservatives have also railed against Mr Ahmadinejad's entourage, including his chief adviser, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.

The Moslehi episode has been interpreted by both the sides as a struggle for control of the intelligence ministry in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year.

The presidential camp has announced it will field candidates to challenge the current conservative majority.