Page last updated at 21:36 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 22:36 UK

Iranian leader backs Ahmadinejad

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mr Ahmadinejad's policies have been blamed for high inflation

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has urged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to prepare for a second term in office amid fierce criticism.

The ayatollah praised the president for "standing up" to the West and predicted he would be returned to office for four more years at the 2009 election.

Critics accuse Mr Ahmadinejad, a foreign policy hardliner, of failing to control inflation and unemployment.

Such public backing from the ayatollah for a president is rare, analysts say.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who won the 2005 presidential election, has caused controversy abroad by calling for the destruction of Israel and pressing ahead with uranium enrichment.

'Shining medal'

"Do not think that this year is your final year," Ayatollah Khamenei told the president at a cabinet meeting on Saturday, in remarks quoted by Iranian state media.

"Work as if you will stay in charge for five years. In other words, imagine that in addition to this year, another four years will be under your management, and plan and act accordingly."

Without referring to foreign states by name, the supreme leader accused "some bullying and brazen countries and their worthless followers [of wanting] to impose their will on the Iranian nation".

"The president and the government have stood up to their excessive demands and moved forward," the ayatollah said.

President Ahmadinejad said the ayatollah's endorsement was "a shining medal" for the government.

Ayatollah Khamenei's strong show of support is aimed at defusing growing attacks on the president, political analyst Majid Mehrabi was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

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