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Swearing-in angers protesters in Iran

TEHRAN, Iran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was sworn in to a second presidential term Wednesday with a call for the divided nation to “join hands,” but it was greeted by protests in the streets and snubs inside Iran’s parliament.

The oath-taking ceremony capped a cycle of outrage over claims of massive fraud in the June 12 elections and moved Iran into a new phase: A weakened leadership facing a wider opposition that includes powerful clerics and internal splits among conservatives.

The political fissures raise serious questions about Iran’s ability to make policy decisions on looming issues such as offers for talks with Washington and efforts to mend ties with European trade partners.

“We have now a crisis of authority, where the president and the supreme leader are not able to make big decisions including about the nuclear program and engagement with the U.S.,” said Mehdi Khalaji, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

President Barack Obama has given Iran until next month to show willingness to open dialogue after a nearly 30-year diplomatic standoff.

In his inaugural address – in tones somewhat quieter than his often-bombastic style – Ahmadinejad called for the nation to put aside its differences and “join hands.”

But on the streets outside the dark green marble parliament chamber, riot police used batons and pepper spray against hundreds of protesters chanting “death to the dictator,” witnesses said.

Some of the protesters wore black T-shirts in a sign of mourning and others wore green – the color of the opposition movement.

Inside parliament, the dissent came in the form of boycotts. Key opposition leaders, moderate lawmakers, two former presidents and all three of Ahmadinejad’s election challengers stayed away from the swearing-in ceremony.

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