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Iran: New Criticism Of Ahmadinejad Adds To Aura Of Discontent ) --> Ahmadinejad's newest critic (epa) There is harsh new criticism circulating in Iran about President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's economic policies. This time the critic is influential cleric and former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who says the government is pursuing policies that are leading to the "impoverishment" of the Iranian people.

Rafsanjani's comments appeared in the "Etemad-e Melli" newspaper and other publications. He says Iran's economy cannot be built on policies that lead to widespread poverty.

Rafsanjani, a prominent political rival of Ahmadinejad, was referring to the president's disputed attempts to redistribute oil wealth among the population. His lavish financial handouts won him popularity in the short term, but soon led to rampant inflation, which has driven up the cost of living.

Rafsanjani also complained that Ahmadinejad is replacing experienced officials willy-nilly with others who often are inexperienced. Ahmadinejad has replaced scores of officials with appointees from among his former colleagues in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps and the Tehran City Council.

Only a week ago he sacked Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohammadi without warning or explanation. That's the ninth cabinet minister he has dismissed since coming to power in 2005.

One of the other ministers who was sacked was Economy and Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari, who had protested in public about what he called unrealistic government policies.

But playing musical chairs with cabinet seats has not helped improve the economy, and the public is becoming exasperated. Inflation is running at over 24 percent, and more than one-quarter of young Iranians are unemployed.

Ahmadinejad also received criticism on May 15 from Central Bank Governor Tahmasb Mazaheri, who said the president's decision to set bank interest rates at between 10 percent and 12 percent -- well below inflation -- is unworkable.

Mazaheri had been advocating increasing interest rates in order to curb excessive lending. But he said the government's economic commission had overruled the bank's recommendations. It is rumored that he may resign.