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Ahmadinejad aide angers Iran conservatives

Say Mashaie's remarks are "pagan"

A controversial close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has incurred the wrath of Iranian conservatives who accused him of making "pagan" remarks about religion, media reported on Saturday.

"There are different interpretations of Islam, but our understanding of the real nature of Iran and of Islam is the Iranian school. From now on, we must present to the world the school of Iran," the president's chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie said at a conference for Iranians living abroad.

His comments provoked a backlash from conservative politicians and clerics.
"Equating the school of Iran and the school of Islam amounts to pagan nationalism, which the people of Iran have never accepted," said Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, normally a close ally of the president.

Another hardline cleric, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, condemned Mashaie for having "once again made erroneous and inappropriate statements."
Mashaie, a close relative of Ahmadinejad, has provoked similar controversy in the past.

He was forced to step down as first vice president in July last year after a row over his remark that Iran was a friend of the Israeli people. He was subsequently made the president's chief of staff.

Several conservative MPs called on Ahmadinejad to account for Mashaie's remarks on "Iranian" Islam.

"It's a betrayal of Islam and of Iran. The president must clarify his position on this individual who uses official forums to express views that are against the constitution, Islam and Iran," conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli was reported as saying.