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Pressure on Iranian President as aide is held

An aide in Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's inner circle has been arrested, ramping up the pressure on the embattled leader who is mired in a bitter power struggle with Iran's leading cleric.

The arrest of Kazem Kiapasha is the latest in a wave of detentions of figures close to the President and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who has been touted as Mr Ahmadinejad's favoured successor, but is loathed by religious hardliners.

Mr Ahmadinejad is locked in an extraordinary clash with his former backer Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, and his decreasing circle of supporters has come under attack from influential religious leaders and the Revolutionary Guards.

The dispute first erupted into the public domain when the Iranian President tried to dismiss his intelligence minister only to see him reinstated by Ayatollah Khamenei. He has also failed in efforts to merge ministries and remove opponents from key posts.

Iran's constitutional watchdog yesterday ruled as illegal his decision to appoint himself caretaker oil minister, potentially giving him control over billions of dollars.