By Roula Khalaf in Beirut
Published: August 4 2010 09:59 | Last updated: August 4 2010 22:31
Iranian officials on Wednesday scrambled to play down reports that President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s motorcade had come under attack earlier in the day during a trip to the western city of Hamedan.
Khabaronline, a conservative website known to be close to Ali Larijani, the parliament speaker and Ahmadi-Nejad rival, first reported that a hand grenade had been hurled at vehicles accompanying Mr Ahmadi-Nejad.
The president, however, was unhurt and went on to deliver a speech that was broadcast live on television.
Giving credence to the first report, the semi-official Fars news agency confirmed the incident and said the attacker had been arrested. While state television remained silent on the matter all day, the attack was denied by the English-language channel Press TV.
Following apparent pressure from the government, Khabaronline replaced its own story with the Fars news agency report.
By the end of the day, Fars itself had changed its story, and was reporting that a “handmade cracker” had been thrown in what it described as a “sign of happiness”.
Hamedan is a conservative city not known for opposition to the government of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad.
But Mashreghnews, a website close to the government, said this week that security forces had arrested a group of terrorists linked to Kurdish separatists in Tehran that were plotting assassinations of officials.
Two days ago, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad declared that “Zionists” were plotting to assassinate him.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has accumulated a long list of opponents, ranging from the Sunni rebel group Jundollah, which claimed responsibility for the attacks on a mosque in south-eastern Tehran last month, to a possibly radicalised opposition that accuses him of stealing the June 2009 presidential election.
The election provoked the most serious wave of unrest in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and led to a relentless government crackdown that has silenced the street protests.
Some senior reformist politicians say the repression was radicalising dissidents and they have warned that some could end up forming small armed cells to retaliate against the regime.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, however, has also come under increased criticism from his own camp in parliament, which accuses him of mismanaging the economy and ignoring the legislative body.
Mr Larijani, the parliament speaker, wrote to the president recently to complain about government failure to enforce laws that had been ratified by parliament.
Adding to the pressure on the government are the new round of UN sanctions that were passed in June, and were followed by US and European Union unilateral measures. The sanctions are designed to persuade Iran to curb its controversial nuclear programme and return to the negotiating table.
Iran has shown signs that it could be willing to restart talks on a nuclear-fuel swap deal that was brokered by Turkey and Brazil but rejected by world powers.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, meanwhile, has offered to hold a face-to-face policy debate with Mr Obama during his trip to New York next month to attend the UN general assembly meetings. The offer was rebuffed by the White House.
The offer was criticised at home. Alef, a website close to Ahmad Tavakoli, a conservative parliament deputy, questioned Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s move and called on him to “respect the national honour”.
[ahmadinejad survives blast - video - click]
More FT video
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2010. Print a single copy of this article for personal use. Contact us if you wish to print more to distribute to others.