TEHRAN, Iran — President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad begins his second term next week undermined by a deepening feud with his fellow hard-liners and under assault from a pro-reform opposition movement that has shown it can bring out thousands of protesters despite a fierce seven-week-old crackdown.
Ahmadinejad on Friday sought shelter with his top supporter, declaring that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is like a father to him. Ahmadinejad accused his hard-line rivals of trying to drive a wedge between him and the man who sits at the top of Iran's clerical leadership and has final say in all state matters.
On Monday, Khamenei leads a ceremony approving Ahmadinejad's second term, and two days later Ahmadinejad is to be sworn in, despite opposition claims that he won the June 12 presidential election by fraud and that his government is illegitimate.
In a sign of the growing challenge the president also faces from some in the religious establishment, an influential clerical group at the seminary in the holy city of Qom called Friday for the opposition to continue its campaign against the election results.
A statement on the Web site of the Association of Teachers and Researchers criticized arrests of protesters and abuses in prisons.
"Reports of inhuman torture are heard every day. They don't allow funeral and memorial ceremonies for victims, and unfortunately all this is done under the name of Islam," the group said.
The supreme leader has stuck by Ahmadinejad -- in part because doing otherwise would be a blow to Khamenei's prestige after he strongly declared the election clean. Still, some hard-liners have accused Ahmadinejad of insufficient loyalty to Khamenei and warned they'll judge the president by his loyalty to the supreme leader, and that if he falls short he doesn't deserve to lead.
Rivals see an opening
Sensing fragility in the president, rivals within Ahmadinejad's own camp seem to be seeking a greater say in his next administration.
During Friday prayer services in Tehran, a senior ultraconservative cleric bluntly told Ahmadinejad to listen to hard-line lawmakers in the makeup of his new Cabinet. "Before naming individuals for ministries, the government and parliament must coordinate," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said.
He criticized Ahmadinejad's attempt this month to appoint a vice president opposed by hard-liners and his firing this week of his intelligence minister, Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi.
"I say to my dear brother [Ahmadinejad] in a friendly manner so no one gets upset, the appointments and dismissals indeed caused an outcry from the people," Jannati said. "The sudden dismissal of a veteran ... and competent minister is not correct. It is not possible to defend this sort of activity."
In a speech Friday in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Ahmadinejad said his rivals were trying to create a rift between him and Khamenei.
"What they don't understand is that the relationship between us and the supreme leader goes beyond politics and administration. It is based on kindness, on ideology, it is like that of a father and son," he said in the speech, parts of which were aired on state TV.
He said the attempts by "ill-wishers" would fail and "this path with be shut in the face of devils."