Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (seated left) yesterdayBy Katherine Butler
With a kiss on the shoulder for the supreme leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sealed his second term as Iran's President. At a formal ceremony in Tehran yesterday, he received the official blessing of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, thus clearing the way for his inauguration tomorrow.
But if the endorsement ceremony, broadcast on Iranian state television, was meant to be a show of political unity, it did more to highlight the power struggle still raging within the senior ranks of the Iranian hierarchy.
It was boycotted by two former presidents, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammed Khatami, as well as the two defeated presidential candidates, Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. There was even a moment of confusion when Mr Khamenei looked as if he wanted only to shake the incoming President's hand, but an awkwardly grinning Mr Ahmadinejad instead leaned in for a kiss.
The relationship between the two men has often been strained, most recently by infighting over Mr Ahmadinejad's choices for his incoming cabinet.
Rumbling in the background also, is a sense of mounting public revulsion at another televised event: the extraordinary start at the weekend of a mass trial of 100 people, many of them prominent figures in the reformist camp, on charges of fomenting a “velvet revolution”.
As Mr Ahmadinejad was bowing his head before Ayatollah Khamenei, the wife of Mohammed Abtahi, another leading cleric, claimed her husband was drugged or tortured by the regime into confessing to organising anti-regime protests during recent unrest.
Mr Abtahi, was jailed shortly after the 12 June election and denied access to lawyers or his family for weeks.
Mr Abtahi, a former vice-president, was jailed shortly after the 12 June election and denied access to lawyers or his family for weeks. When he appeared on TV on Saturday, minus clerical turban and robes, his gaunt, almost haunted look horrified many people who immediately concluded that his change of heart had been beaten or coerced out of him.