Ahmadinejad accused of faking support

Opponents of Iranian president say he bused in students, soldiers to attend his public appearances.

Ahmadinejad shouts 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Ahmadinejad shouts 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Opponents of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused him Saturday of faking his support by busing in students and soldiers to attend his public appearances, a strategy brought to light by the death of a student in a bus crash. The tactic and the student's death on Wednesday gave Ahmadinejad's reformist challengers ammunition to attack a president they blame for the country's faltering economy and its deepened international isolation. The president's top challenger in the June 12 vote, reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, said it was more important for Ahmadinejad to bus in people for his public speeches than to try to resolve double-digit inflation and unemployment. "It appears that luring students and crowds for the government is more important than tackling unemployment and inflation," Mousavi said in comments posted Saturday on his campaign Web site. Iran's state media have imposed a news blackout on Wednesday's bus accident and on the campaign strategy of transporting students from other towns to listen to the president, but the news got out on a parliamentary Web site loyal to hard-liners. A posting on that site said a bus carrying students from the southern town of Fasa was involved in a road accident that killed one student and wounded several others during a 125-mile (200-kilometer) journey to the city of Shiraz for the president's appearance at a stadium. The official IRNA news agency, in reporting Wednesday's speech, said it took the president three hours to make what is normally a 15-minute trip to the stadium due to huge crowds of well-wishers. Such reports follow a familiar pattern in state media. IRNA called Wednesday's turnout a "spontaneous move on the part of people who love Ahmadinejad." Reformists, however, said local government officials closed garrisons and schools and bussed in soldiers, students and government employees to create what they called a fake impression of the president and help him win votes. "Closing down schools and departments and forcing students, clerks and soldiers to attend a welcome ceremony for government officials is nothing new but at what price?" said the reformist daily Etemad-e-Melli, or National Confidence, on Saturday. The parliamentary Web site quoted Ali Akbar Moqassemi, a local Education Ministry official, as saying that the students were not forced to go to Shiraz. "As far as I know, they were not forced. They were willing to meet Mr. Ahmadinejad themselves," he said. Iran's reformers, who favor improving ties with the West and loosening restrictions at home, see a strong opportunity to unseat Ahmadinejad. The president has lost popularity even among some conservatives because of his handling of the stuttering economy, and some Iranians believe his tough anti-US and anti-Israel rhetoric has worsened Iran's isolation in the world. The largest conservative faction, Majma-e-Rouhaniyat-e-Mobarez, has surprisingly refused to support Ahmadinejad, a reflection of concerns about the future of Iran under the hard-line president.