Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "first provincial" tour since he was appointed president for the second time this year ended on Friday as administration efforts to demonstrate that he enjoyed popular support ended in failure while a quarter of the space in the eight Shiite Imam mausoleum in Mashhad remained empty as he delivered his public speech.
Ahmadinejad began his first "provincial trip" - as his visits to the Iran's provinces have come to be known as - on Thursday by going to the holy city of Mashhad while special measures were taken to bring as many people as possible to hear his public speech. This trip coincided with the anniversary of the birth of Imam Reza, the Shiite eight imam, which is when many Shiites travel to the mausoleum of the imam in Mashhad as pilgrims.
For this trip, special measures were taken to welcome Ahmadinejad, which included a wedding ceremony for 1,200 members of the martyrs of the eight-year war in the 1980s with Iraq, 15 special air flights to Mashhad two days before Ahmadinejad's trip, and the launching of a caravan pilgrim trip of Basijis to the city coinciding with the chief executive.
In addition, Ahmadinejad's public speech was to take place during the
congregational Friday prayers which is when the mausoleum of Imam Reza is packed
with pilgrims and prayer sayers. But this time, this did not happen, forcing the
prayers to begin a half hour later than scheduled so that more people would
gather in the hall. Witnesses told Rooz that they had seen individuals carrying
placards that displayed "Requests from the president" messages among the
pilgrims and residents of Mashhad. The placards asked people who had requests
from the president to put their written petitions in blue-colored envelopes and
handed to the men carrying the placards.
This was Ahmadinejad's second trip to the city since the June 12 elections (the first one was a private visit), but as in the first the trip, the highest religious authority in the province, ayatollah Vaez Tabasi, the chief custodian of the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad refrained from welcoming him. The ayatollah is viewed as an Ahmadinejad critic in the conservative camp.
Some observers have said that the reason for the absence of an official welcome ceremony by Khorasan provincial authorities, and also the public, for Ahmadinejad is not just the criticism over the president's actions and behavior before and following the June 12 elections, but also the non-fulfillment of the administration's promises that were made during his two earlier visits, in his first presidential term.
Speaking with ILNA, Iran's labor news agency Mashhad's Majlis representative
Mohammad Reza Khabaz said, "People are unhappy over the government's
non-fulfillment of its promises and ask why the commitments made during the
president's first visit have not been met." Mentioning the expenses that were
exposed during last year's cold spell in the province, he said, "While we are
now in the eight month of the calendar year, the government has not compensated
the Astan Ghods Razavi agency for its expenses that were incurred last year
during the cold spell, as it had promised."
While Ahmadinejad was on this trip, a special seminar titled "Basij and the Media" was held in Mashhad in which such figures as the new commander of Basij Mohammad Reza Naghvi, and the head of Fars News Agency Hamid Reza Moghadamfar participated where both stressed the importance of "being ready for a soft war."
These Basiji forces had gone to Mashhad along with their president to participate in the seminar as the head of the Basij Cooperative Gholam Hossein Kalooli in the town of Dezful revealed to Fars news agency that 300 billion Toman in bank credit had been allocated to "active Basijis" across the country.
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