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Mon 20 Jul 2009 08:07 AM

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Iran's vice president walks away from job

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie has resigned three days after his appointment, state media reports.

Iran's vice president walks away from job
WALK OUT: Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie (left) talks to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during an Iranian expatriate summit in April 2009. (AFP)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's choice as first vice president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, has walked away from the job, state media reported on Sunday.

Mashaie, a controversial politician and confidant of Ahmadinejad, has "resigned three days after his appointment" as first vice president, state-owned English-language channel Press TV reported.

The channel initially sourced its report to the education ministry-funded news agency, Pana. In its news item, Pana said "The content of his resignation letter will be published soon."

There was no immediate independent confirmation of Mashaie's resignation.

The appointment was strongly opposed by hardliners among Ahmadinejad's own support base.

Mashaie, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son, is an outspoken figure who last year earned the wrath of hardliners, including supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for saying Iran is a "friend of the Israeli people."

In his current role as vice president in charge of tourism he sparked ire among MPs for reportedly watching a group of women dance at a congress in Turkey in 2007.

His nomination as first vice president had ruffled feathers among hardliners deeply sensitive to any breach of the long-standing taboo on relations of any kind with arch foe Israel.

Ahmadinejad himself spearheaded an anti-Israel campaign during his first four-year term, even calling the Holocaust a "myth."

Since the announcement of Mashaie's appointment on Friday, there has been a chorus of criticism from hardliners.

"It is imperative to terminate the appointment of Mashaie as first vice president in order to respect the wishes of the majority of the people," said Hossein Shariatmadari, managing director of the hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose post is in the gift of supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"When people found out about the appointment, they viewed this move as one taken not just in bad taste... but as one which shows indifference," he wrote in an editorial.

Leading hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami also slammed Mashaie's nomination.

"This appointment has been made in defiance of the members of the Assembly of Experts, the majlis (parliament) and several leading figures who have often mentioned that the post is a sensitive one," the Jam-e Jam newspaper quoted Khatami as saying.

"I therefore urge Mr Ahmadinejad to reconsider his choice before the wave of criticism spreads."

The resistance to Mashaie's appointment was a sign of the difficulties Ahmadinejad is likely to face in forming a new cabinet after his hotly contested re-election in a June 12 vote that his main challenger denounced as a "shameful fraud".

The incumbent's detractors have made clear that they have no intention of giving up their protest campaign, and only on Friday former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani used the platform of a sermon at the main weekly Muslim payers to say the government had lost people's trust.

Reza Akrami, a leading member of the Association of Militant Clergy, a conservative clerical group supporting Ahmadinejad, was quoted by the Fars news agency as disapproving of his choice of Mashaie.

"In the past four years I did not see wise behaviour from him... and he did not leave any outstanding report card," he was quoted as saying.

But Ahmadinejad had insisted Mashaie was a fine candidate for the job, saying he was a "pious and dedicated" man who believed in the principles of the Islamic revolution.

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