Monday, April 21, 2008

Inflation in Iran earns criticism of Ahmadinejad

Top Iran clerics criticise president over economy

TEHRAN (AFP) - Three of Iran's top clerics have criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over his handling of the economy, which is currently battling 18 per cent inflation, the press reported Saturday.
"We shift problems and faults onto others and in order to say we are innocent we blame others," Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavikani, a former prime minister and leading traditionalist conservative cleric, said in a speech in Tehran.
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly blamed his political rivals and the previous administration of reformist president Mohammad Khatami for stoking inflation and insisted his government is doing all it can to solve the problem.
The comments by Mahdavikani, quoted in the reformist Aftab-e Yazd newspaper, represent an unusually sharp attack on the president's policies by such an eminent religious figure.
He also called on Ahmadinejad not to use top clerics as political instruments to bring out his supporters to vote in elections.
"In my meeting with Mr Ahmadinejad I told him not to use us [clerics] as instruments. We were combatants before the [1979 Islamic] Revolution. We fought against corruption and what was against religion."
Ahmadinejad, in a speech in Iran's clerical epicentre of Qom, on Wednesday launched an extraordinary new attack on his domestic rivals, vowing to "cut their hands" to break networks of economic and political corruption.
Moderates have long have accused Ahmadinejad of injecting excessive cash into the economy to fund local infrastructure projects, causing an increase in money supply growth and directly triggering the inflation spike.
"From different corners of the nation one hears complaints about high prices and inflation," Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi, also a traditionalist conservative, was quoted as saying in Qom.
"Especially on the issue of housing, where the people's cries can be heard even louder," he added, referring to the surge in housing prices in Tehran which have priced many middle-income families out of the market.
Taking issue with Ahmadinejad's fiery rhetoric against his opponents, Makarem Shirazi said criticism of the government on the economy should not be stifled.
"Sometimes it is said that if we talk about it [the economic situation], it is weakening the government but no, it is not."
"If the economic problems are not solved then we will have political and cultural problems," he added.
"The recent soaring prices are not a slogan. They are now felt by all walks of life," said moderate Grand Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mossavi Ardebili, who previously served as head of the judiciary.
It is extremely unusual in Iran for leading ayatollahs to speak out so explicitly and in unison over a political issue such as the economy and the comments could further increase pressure on Ahmadinejad.
It was announced earlier this month that the president had asked his Economy Minister Davoud Danesh Jaafari to step down, but that has still not taken place amid rumours Ahmadinejad is reconsidering his decision.
Ahmadinejad has changed almost all of his economic ministers -including oil and industry - since coming to power in 2005 on a platform of bringing oil money to people's tables.
20 April 2008

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