TEHRAN - A hardline Iranian cleric said on Friday there had been plots in the Islamic state to weaken Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's position after a disputed election last month.

Iran's disputed presidential poll on June 12 plunged the country into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and has exposed deep divisions in its ruling elite.

We know of some insulting private meetings. We know about the plots against the leader but you (who hold these meetings) should know that you will not be able to stand against the people, Ahmad Khatami told Friday prayer worshippers.

Our people will defend the leader until the last drop of their blood, Khatami, a member of the Assembly of Experts, added.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and the head of the Assembly of Experts which in theory can dismiss the supreme leader, declared the Islamic republic in crisis last Friday and said there were doubts about the election result.

Rafsanjani's comments were a clear challenge to the authority of Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure, who endorsed the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad soon after the vote.

Reformist former president Mohammad Khatami and defeated moderate candidate Mirhossein Mousavi rejected the election result, saying Ahmadinejad's government would be illegitimate.

Khamenei's endorsement of Ahmadinejad victory was meant to be the final word on the fairness of the June poll.


Separately on Friday, 50 members of the 86-seat Assembly of Experts, called on Rafsanjani in a statement to show more support for the leader.

Many ... expect the head of the assembly, who has always helped the leader in solving problems and obstacles in the past, to show more and clearer support for the leader during these sensitive times, the statement read.

Also during the prayers Khatami renewed his call on Ahmadinejad to dismiss Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, who said Iran was friendly with everyone even the people of its sworn foe Israel, as the new vice president.

After hardliners criticized the president for appointing Mashaie, a senior lawmaker said this week Khamenei's demand for the dismissal of Mashaie was conveyed to the president.

Despite increased pressure, Ahmadinejad has shown no sign of backing down. He has even praised Mashaie as being modest and loyal to the 1979 Islamic revolution.

We ask the president to review his choice for the vice presidency (of Mashaie), Khatami said.

I wish things had not gone so far that the leader had to make comments about it. Now that the leader has made clear his view, there is no room for waiting (in dismissing Mashaie), he added.
(Editing by Peter Millership)