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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday seemed unbowed by his rivals' near-sweep of local elections in Iran, blasting US President George W. Bush despite criticism that he spends too much time slamming the West instead of solving problems at home.
As final results from the election were announced Thursday, Ahmadinejad spoke to crowds in a tour of several western Iranian cities, calling Bush the most hated man in the world and vowing his country would not be intimidated by the superpowers.
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"Oh, the respectful gentleman, get out of the glassy palace and know that you are the most hated person in the eyes of the world's nations and you can't harm the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said, addressing Bush, according to the official Iranian Republic News Agency.
He also insisted Iran would never cease uranium enrichment even under threat of UN sanctions. The US and its allies believe Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, an allegation Teheran dismisses, claiming its program is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
"A nation that has resisted until today will resist until the last step and will defend its rights," he said.
He did not comment on the results of last week's elections for local councils, widely seen as a referendum on his 18 months in power. Ahmadinejad has sharply escalated Iran's standoff with the United States and its allies over several issues including his repeated refusal to suspend enrichment. Ahmadinejad has also sparked international outrage for his comments against Israel and for casting doubt on the Holocaust.
His hard-line stance is believed to have divided the conservative base that voted him to the presidency, with some feeling he has spent too much time defying the West and too little time tackling Iran's domestic issues.
Moderate conservatives opposed to Ahmadinejad won a majority of seats in last week's elections, according to final results released Thursday by the Interior Ministry. They were followed by reformists, who appeared to be making a comeback after being driven out local councils, parliament and the presidency over the past five years.
In the capital, Teheran, Ahmadinejad's allies grabbed only three of the 15 council seats, while his main rival, Mayor Mohammed Bagher Qalibaf, a moderate conservative, won seven. Reformists picked up four, and the last seat went to an independent, wrestling champion Ali Reza Dabir, who won a 2000 Olympic gold medal.
Final results in other parts of the country also showed a heavy defeat for Ahmadinejad supporters. None of his candidates won seats on the councils in the cities of Shiraz, Bandar Abbas, Sari, Zanjan, Rasht, Ilam, Sanandaj and Kerman, and many councils in other cities were divided along similar proportions as Tehran's.
Though the December 15 elections for local councils - which handle municipal matters - do not directly affect Ahmadinejad's administration and were not expected to bring immediate policy changes, they were the first time the public has weighed in on Ahmadinejad's stormy presidency.
Ahmadinejad has not commented on the defeat of his allies. But moderate conservatives and reformists had plenty to tell Ahmadinejad after the final results were announced.
The moderate daily newspaper Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, urged Ahmadinejad to change his policies if he has any respect for the vote.
"The result of the elections, if there is any ear to listen or any eye to see, demands reconsideration in policies," the paper said in its editorial Thursday.
Conservative lawmaker Emad Afroogh also called on Ahmadinejad to learn a lesson from the vote. "The people's vote means they don't like Ahmadinejad's populist methods," Afroogh said.
Leading reformist Saeed Shariati also said the results of the election were a "big no" to Ahmadinejad and his allies, who he accused of harming Iran's interests with their hard line.
"We consider this government's policy to be against Iran's national interests and security. It is simply acting against Iran's interests," said Shariati, a leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, Iran's largest reformist party. His party seeks democratic changes within Iran's ruling Islamic establishment and supports relations with the United States.
Many opponents demanded Ahmadinejad switch his focus to domestic issues including high unemployment, estimated at 11 percent, and other economic problems. Ahmadinejad has failed to live up to several campaign promises including a pledge to bring oil revenues to the table of every family and work toward fighting poverty.
Similar anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment was visible in the final results of a parallel election held to select members of the Assembly of Experts, a conservative body of 86 senior clerics that monitor Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor.
A big boost for moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment was visible in the large number of votes for former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election runoff.
Rafsanjani, who supports dialogue with the United States, was the Teheran candidate with the most votes to win re-election to the assembly. Also re-elected was Hasan Rowhani, Iran's former top nuclear negotiator whom Ahmadinejad has repeatedly accused of making too many concessions to the Europeans.
More than 233,000 candidates ran for more than 113,000 council seats in cities, towns and villages across the vast nation on December 15. All municipal council candidates, including some 5,000 women, were vetted by parliamentary committees dominated by hard-liners. The committees disqualified about 10,000 nominees, reports said.