Ahmadinejad ventures online to spread the word

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The Independent Online

For the leader of a country well known for its suppression of cyber-dissidents and censorship of subversive internet sites, it is something of a turnaround. But, then, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad always likes to shock.

The Iranian President, in his quest for a new means of regaling the masses with his fiery political rhetoric, has opened his own blog, a colourfully written message to his electorate, in which he lambasts the US for opposing Iran's nuclear programme and asks readers to vote on whether they think Israel is trying to trigger a new world war.

Sprinkling his first foray into cyberspace with more personal memories of his childhood as the academically "distinguished" son of "a hard-bitten toiler blacksmith," Mr Ahmadinejad nonetheless makes a point of driving home his favourite political messages.

In the blog, which can be read in Persian, Arabic, English and French at www.ahmadinejad.ir, the flamboyant leader explains that his dislike of the US began while still at school, when he became enraged by what he calls Washington's interference in Iranian domestic affairs. Declaring that he would refuse to bow to pressure to end his country's nuclear programme, he invites visitors to the site to give their opinions on the Middle East crisis.

"Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another world war?" the President asks his readers, offering them the choice to vote yes or no. At one point, he refers to the US as "Great Satan USA". Discussing Iran's political history, Mr Ahmadinejad expresses his admiration for the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and describes the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein as an "aggressor" who, during the Iran-Iraq war, was "intoxicated with power".

Mr Ahmadinejad concludes by admitting that his debut blog, which runs to more than 2,300 words in the English version, was perhaps too verbose. "From now onwards, I will try to make it simpler and shorter," he wrote. "With hope in God, I intend to wholeheartedly complete my talk in future within the allotted 15 minutes." Brevity does not seem to be the President's forte: earlier this year he sent President George Bush an eight-page letter outlining his commitment to continuing his country's nuclear programme.

For Iranians with experience of using the internet for political communication, the President's blog will have come as a surprise. His leadership has seen a big crackdown on opposition websites, with one of the most sophisticated government censorship systems in the world.

According to Keivan Mehrgan, a Tehran-based blogger, Mr Ahmadinejad's technological efforts had less to do with an acceptance of cyber-politics and more to do with a desire for publicity from a notoriously populist leader.

"Ahmadinejad used to have nothing to do with the internet and even talked against journalists and bloggers before he became President," Mr Mehrgan said.

Following the explosive population growth in Iran after the Islamic revolution, the country now has a disproportionate percentage of young people who have embraced the internet with open arms. Politicians are keen to target them.

Use of the blog already appears high - by yesterday afternoon, 12,000 people had taken part in the online vote.