Powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani urged Iran's warring political groups on Saturday to follow the orders of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for ending the present political turmoil.
In his first such statement in direct support of Khamenei since the June 12 election, the former president said "the current situation needs everyone to observe the leader's decrees and advice," Iranian news agencies reported.
Rafsanjani was speaking at the start of a meeting of Iran's top political arbitration body, the Expediency Council, which he heads.
He urged the bitterly divided groups to create "appropriate conditions to act and commit to the constitution ... and confront law breakers, whatever their ideological leanings."
Meanwhile, several Iranian conservative clerics have objected to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's decision to include three women in his new cabinet, a newspaper reported on Saturday as a court decided to ban a controversial presidential aid from public office for two months.
Ahmadinejad named Sousan Keshvaraz, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi and Fatemeh Ajorlou as his ministers respectively of education, health and welfare, and social security in his 21-member cabinet line-up.
"Although it is a new idea to choose women as ministers, there are religious doubts over the abilities of women when it comes to management. This should be considered by the government," Mohammad Taghi Rahbar, the head of the clerics' faction in the conservative-dominated Iranian parliament was quoted as saying by the daily Tehran Emrouz.
He said the faction, whose view has yet to be officially declared, will seek the opinion of the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on the issue.
Rahbar said that if Khamenei remains "silent" on the issue, parliament "will note the clerics' view during the vote of confidence."
Ahmadinejad's proposed cabinet line-up, which boasts 11 new names including the three women, will face a vote of confidence on August 30.
Rahbar said leading Iranian clerics such as Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi and Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayghani were of the same opinion and wanted Ahmadinejad to reconsider his decision.
Defending the decision
The nomination of three women to the cabinet is a first in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic, although in 1997 then reformist president Mohammad Khatami appointed two women among his vice presidents.
Defending his decision in a television address on Thursday, Ahmadinejad said "the three women were chosen after close examination. I am against belittling women. We have to carve out the way."
The conservative paper said that Ayatollah Yousef Tabatabai, the Friday prayer leader of the central city of Isfahan, was also opposed to the decision.
"We hope what the president said about the women ministers is not recognized by parliament," the paper reported him as saying.
But cleric Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi, who heads a reformist group of Qom seminary scholars, backed the nomination of women ministers, reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd reported.
"Women have the capability to execute different social activities, including as ministers and in my opinion if women are wise and learned, they can become judges, and even sources of emulation," Tabrizi said.
Ahmadinejad is expected to face an uphill battle to win the assembly's approval for all the names on his cabinet list.
The president has already been shaken by the massive street protests against his June re-election, which the opposition claims was rigged. A dispute with some hardliners over his political choices has exposed rifts among the ruling elite of Iran.
Meanwhile Iran's audit court banned controversial aide to Ahmadinejad from public office for two months over a breach of administrative rules.
"The Supreme Audit Court has sentenced Esfandiar Rahim Meshaie to a two-month suspension from service for continuing to grant illegal financial authority to an employee," leading economic daily Sarmayeh said.
It said the offence was committed when Meshaie was a vice president in charge of the Tourism and Cultural Heritage Organization during the first term of Ahmadinejad. He is currently Ahmadinejad's chief of staff.
Meshaie confirmed the ruling but has objected to it, insisting the ban "has nothing to do with financial offences," the report said. He added that the employee in question was dismissed during his administration.
Ahmadinejad named his confidant and relative Meshaie as first vice president soon after his re-election but was forced to terminate the appointment after strong opposition to the man who has infuriated hardliners by saying Iran is a friend of Israeli people.
Ahmadinejad came under fire in particular from his own hard-line camp for ignoring for a week an order from the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to fire Meshaie.