Page last updated at 12:23 GMT, Tuesday, 23 January 2007

Criticism of Ahmadinejad mounts

By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Teheran

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mr Ahmadinejad's handling of the economy is being questioned

Pressure appears to be mounting on Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His main political rival, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, implicitly criticised his slow move towards privatisation of the economy.

Hardliners in parliament also appear split with many of Mr Ahmadinejad's former supporter now critical of him.

It is becoming clear that the green light has been given from the very top for open debate of President Ahmadinejad's record in power.

Normally compliant newspaper editorials have suddenly started criticising his handling of the economy and his undiplomatic language.

Now the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, has voiced public criticism of President Ahmadinejad's tendency towards a highly centralised state-controlled economy.

Mr Rafsanjani, who is a capitalist, has invoked the supreme leader, suggesting the leader was pained by the very slow pace of privatisation under Mr Ahmadinejad's government.

There has also been criticism from the speaker of parliament, who, in a veiled reference to the president, complained about some figures in Iran having the wrong view of investment.

All this suggests that many in the top echelons of power are beginning to realise that Mr Ahmadinejad's confrontational foreign policy and populist rhetoric internally carry a heavy cost for Iran's future.

But at this point there is no suggestion of removing the president, merely restraining him.

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