Iranian Politician Pelted With Shoes at Shrine

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TEHRAN -- The speaker of Iran's Parliament, an open rival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was pelted with shoes and stones in one of Iran's holiest shrines on Sunday, forcing him to cancel a speech there, the semiofficial Iranian Labour News Agency reported Monday.

The speaker, Ali Larijani, is a leading member of Iran's most famous political family. He had been scheduled to speak at the golden-domed shrine of Fatima Masoumeh, the daughter of a Shiite saint, to commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. The shrine is in the city of Qom, Mr. Larijani's home district, where most of his political supporters among Iran's traditional clergy hold offices.

But when he was preparing to deliver his speech, a group of around 100 protesters, described by the news agency as "Ahmadinejad fans," started throwing shoes and small stones used by Shiite worshipers when they pray, actions that are regarded as gravely insulting. When the protesters pressed toward the stage, Mr. Larijani's bodyguards took him away.

The episode occurred less than a week after a high-profile clash between Mr. Ahmadinejad and Mr. Larijani in which the president released what he said was film footage of secret business dealings involving Mr. Larijani's younger brother, Fazel. The president's action in publicly identifying and accusing a member of so prominent a family caused an uproar in Iran, and was condemned by the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called the squabbling "immoral behavior."

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has tried to tamp down the bitter rivalry among the country's top politicians, issued an edict in October saying that anyone who created divisions before the presidential election, scheduled for June 14, was betraying the country.

Mr. Ahmadinejad surprised many officials on Sunday when he said that he would be prepared to negotiate directly with the United States if the Americans would "take your guns out of the face of the Iranian nation." The remark seems to contradict a recent speech by Ayatollah Khamenei saying that the conditions for such talks were not right.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also said that no one could "engineer" the upcoming election, as he was accused of doing in 2009, when millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest what they said was election fraud by the government.

President Ahmadinejad ended his speech with the words, "Long live spring," a phrase widely seen as an unofficial slogan for his aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashai, who is thought to be preparing to run for office.

Enemies of Mr. Mashai among the traditional clergy and the country's powerful Revolutionary Guards corps have accused him of having "deviant ideas." In the past he has been accused of being a Freemason, a heretic and a British agent. But Mr. Ahmadinejad has backed him unconditionally, even when Ayatollah Khamenei ruled in 2009 that Mr. Meshai could not become vice president.

The heckling of Mr. Larijani on Sunday was widely condemned by politicians and clerics in Iran. Most called for an investigation, but none publicly blamed Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters.

One influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nouri Hamedani, told Mr. Larijani by telephone that the episode was a "disgusting move by those not taking into account the dignity of the shrine and the anniversary of the revolution," according to the semiofficial Islamic Student News Agency.

The official news agency, IRNA, described the protesters as "people shouting slogans stressing the unity of officials."


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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