Iran parliament questions President Ahmadinejad

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad answers questions in parliament (14 March 2012) The president has been accused of wasting resources on government handouts

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The Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has appeared in parliament to answer questions from MPs.

Mr Ahmadinejad took an hour to respond to a long list of questions about his foreign and domestic policy decisions.

He insisted they had been in accordance with the law, and denied that he had challenged the authority of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It was the first time since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that Iran's parliament has summoned the president.

Earlier this month, conservative candidates who support Ayatollah Khamenei were successful in the country's parliamentary elections.

Mr Ahmadinejad's allies meanwhile fared badly, which analysts say has seriously compromised the president's political standing.

Centrist and reformist groups also lost many seats, and deep political rifts appeared among their senior leaders.

'One of those things'

The summons, issued last month by the outgoing parliament, followed a long-awaited petition for a review of policy decisions by Mr Ahmadinejad, who has been widely criticised in recent months by hardline MPs.

Analysis

President Ahmadinejad has always been keen to make his mark on Iranian history. On Wednesday, his opponents in parliament helped to set him apart from his predecessors. Mr Ahmadinejad became the first president since the 1979 revolution to be ordered to appear before parliament to answer questions from MPs.

For 15 minutes, an MP read out questions to the president. They dealt with his handling of the economy and also his public arguments with Ayatollah Khamenei. For an hour, Mr Ahmadinejad replied that his actions and policies were entirely in accordance with the law.

The summons is a sign of the deep rift within Iran's ruling conservative movement. President Ahmadinejad has fought against the supreme leader and his allies in parliament. In this fight Ayatollah Khamenei holds most of the cards. Term limits mean that Mr Ahmadinejad has to step down as president next year. But Ayatollah Khamenei plans to stay on supreme leader for the rest of his life.

At Wednesday's special session, which was broadcast live on state radio, conservative MP Ali Motahari read out 10 lengthy questions for the president, who was joined by eight senior cabinet ministers.

Although they focused on the economy, some delved into the rift between Mr Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei, which has been widening for some time.

One question asked the president to explain his justification for his 11-day absence from government meetings last April after the supreme leader reinstated the Intelligence Minister, Heidar Moslehi, whom Mr Ahmadinejad had just sacked.

The president denied he had challenged Ayatollah Khamenei.

"This is one of those things. Ahmadinejad staying home and resting. Some of my friends have repeatedly told me to rest," he was quoted as telling MPs by the state news agency, Irna.

"In this government, work has never been stopped for even a day."

Mr Ahmadinejad was also asked about his perceived failures to enact legislation, tackle unemployment, combat rising fuel and food prices, and provide a budget for Tehran's underground system.

He said the government had provided more money to municipalities than previous governments, and said the price rises were nothing to do with his government's decision to cut subsidies.

The president's final words caused some uproar in the chamber.

"It was not a very difficult quiz," he told the MPs, according to the Associated Press. "To me, those who designed the questions were from among those who got a master's degree by just pushing a button. If you had consulted us, better questions could have been drawn up."

The president added that he deserved top marks.

"Be fair. Any grade of less than 20 [out of 20] will be rude."

After the session several MPs said they were not convinced by the president's answers, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

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