Iran opposition leaders lash out at powerful hardline cleric

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iranian opposition leaders lashed out on Monday at powerful hardline cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati over his accusations they had been paid by the United States to topple the Islamic regime.

Jannati, the long-serving head of the Guardians Council -- the constitutional and electoral watchdog -- is a vocal backer of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose re-election the opposition said was massively rigged.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi slammed Jannati for "lying, especially when one is tasked with fostering people's votes and the constitution," in comments carried by his Kaleme.com website.

"What better reason for fraud in the election than this man's recent lie?" charged Mousavi, a former premier who has led an anti-government campaign since losing to Ahmadinejad last year.

Jannati charged in comments published last week that Washington had paid one billion dollars to "the leaders of the sedition" -- a term hardliners coined to describe opposition leaders -- and promising them another 50 billion dollars to overthrow the regime.

The allegation has also drawn angry reactions from the other opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi and former president Mohammad Khatami as Ahmadinejad's re-election, which has bitterly divided the political elite, still figures as a major unresolved issue for the opposition.

"We are witnessing that they resort to lying, insults and defamation to justify oppression and bad policies," Khatami said on the website of his Baran organisation.

"Instead of preventing the country's downfall, they claim billion of dollars have come from abroad to undermine the revolution," said the reformist former president.

Karroubi for his part branded Jannati as "an accomplice to those who stole people's votes," in a statement on his website last week.

Jannati was recently re-instated in his position by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, despite widespread criticism against the council over the handling of the poll, whose result triggered widespread protests and unrest shaking the pillars of the Islamic republic.

Iranian leaders have accused the United States and Britain of masterminding the protests in a bid to topple the regime.

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