* President's media aide hits out at rival conservatives
* Reformist newspaper banned for 2 months for "insults"
* Deep rift between hardline factions that rule Iran
By Robin Pomeroy and Ramin Mostafavi
TEHRAN, Nov 20 Iranian authorities shut
down a reformist newspaper on Sunday after it published a
scathing attack by an aide to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the
president's rival conservatives, the latest sign of a split in
the highest echelons of the Islamic Republic.
Tehran's prosecutor's office ordered the daily Etemad to
close for two months for "disseminating lies and insults to
officials in the establishment," according to the semi-official
Fars news agency.
One of the main reasons for the ban was an interview with
Ahmadinejad's media adviser Ali Akbar Javanfekr, Fars quoted
Etemad manager Elias Hazrati as saying.
In the interview Javanfekr hit back at critics who accuse
Ahmadinejad of being in the thrall of a "deviant" circle seeking
to undermine the Islamic clergy, saying they had "poisoned"
politics and implying many were corrupt.
"What have we 'deviated' from? Yes, we have deviated from
those friends, from their beliefs, behaviour and
interpretations," Javanfekr told Saturday's Etemad. "If they
meant the deviant current is a deviation from their beliefs, we
The counter-attack, published verbatim over three pages in
Etemad, signalled the determination of Ahmadinejad's camp to
fight back as Iran gears up for parliamentary elections in
With the opposition "Green" movement crushed after
protesting Ahmadinejad's 2009 re-election, the battle for power
in Iran is now between rival conservatives -- the traditional
religious hardliners and the more populist Ahmadinejad camp.
That rift became more apparent after Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei forced Ahmadinejad to reinstate the
intelligence minister he sacked in April -- a move seen by the
president's critics as a political manoeuvre.
Since then parliament and the judiciary have moved against
the president, with lawmakers threatening impeachment and
prosecutors arresting some people on the fringes of his faction.
Rebutting accusations that Ahmadinejad's faction sought to
undermine Iran's clerical ruling system, Javanfekr said that the
president had been endorsed by the supreme leader.
"The great leader of the revolution called Ahmadinejad's
government the government of work and effort. If they believe
the government is not serving people it is better that they say
they have a problem with the supreme leader," he said.
Analysts say that Khamenei prefers to keep Ahmadinejad in
place rather that allow his rivals to unseat him, jeopardising
stability at a time of economic difficulties and the risk of
popular unrest spilling over from the nearby Arab world.
But Javanfekr said Ahmadinejad was far from a spent force
and retained public support that meant he did not need the
support of conservatives who backed him in 2009 as the best bet
against a strong showing by reformists.
"It was not us who were ungrateful, they were the ones that
did not acknowledge Ahmadinejad and his government ...
Ahmadinejad has popularity and does not owe them anything," he
Javanfekr criticised the treatment of Mohammad Sharif
Malekzadeh, an ally of Ahmadinejad's top aide, who was arrested
in June, saying he had been held in solitary confinement and
suffered mental and physical consequences.
Etemad was among the few reformist papers still publishing
after the June 2009 election. It has suffered temporary bans
since for alleged violation of media law -- something critics
say is a catch-all offence used to suppress dissent.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)