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August 4, 2009

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Supreme leader endorses president

IRAN'S supreme leader formally endorsed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as president yesterday in a ceremony that sought to portray unity among the country's leadership but was snubbed by prominent critics of the disputed election.

After Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave his official seal of approval, he received an awkward kiss on the shoulder from Ahmadinejad. The meeting cleared the way for Ahmadinejad to take the oath of office tomorrow in parliament, where many lawmakers have echoed the claims of fraud in the June 12 election.

The ceremony showed vividly the deep political divides confronting Ahmadinejad and his backers among the ruling clerics. The event was boycotted by two former presidents - Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami - and defeated candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, state media reported.

Khamenei described the June 12 election as a "golden page" in Iran's political history and said it was a "vote for the fight against arrogance and brave resistance to the international domination-seekers" - a clear reference to the United States and its allies.

Ahmadinejad, who kissed Khamenei's hand four years ago to show absolute loyalty, had a more tentative exchange this time.

He appeared to approach Khamenei to kiss his hand, but the leader stopped him and took a step back. The two exchanged words, Ahmadinejad smiled and then Khamenei allowed him to kiss his shoulder - not a common gesture in Iran, where men often exchange kisses on the cheeks.

Iran faces some important tests in the early months of Ahmadinejad's second four-year term.

US President Barack Obama has given Iran a September deadline to show a willingness to open dialogue on its nuclear ambitions and other key issues.

Last month US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the opportunity to talks with Washington "will not remain open indefinitely."


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