updated 2/10/2008 4:15:30 PM ET 2008-02-10T21:15:30

Iran replaced Tehran University's chancellor, who was the first Islamic cleric appointed by the hard-line government to the post, with a non-cleric economics instructor after allegations of mismanagement, state media reported Sunday.

The government-owned IRAN newspaper said the former university chief, cleric Ayatollah Abbasali Amid Zanjani, was replaced by Farhad Rahbar, a non-cleric who had been an economics teacher at the oldest university in Tehran.

The announcement, made Saturday, comes after students at the university dormitory protested several times over the past two weeks, accusing Zanjani and his administration of mismanagement and providing students with poor food and transportation.

During a ceremony Saturday marking the farewell of the cleric, Iran's higher education minister, Mohammad Mahdi Zahedi, said the replacement "was not the result of (Zanjani's) dismissal or resignation."

But Zahedi said Rahbar was chosen to replace Zanjani because he was "capable, intelligent, a team-worker, persevering and caring."

Zahedi did not provide more details about why Zanjani was replaced, and Zanjani was not immediately available for comment on his replacement and mismanagement allegations. But the decision appeared to underline the growing rifts here with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government.

Elections next month
The replacement came ahead of the mid-March parliamentary elections, seen as a key test of Ahmadinejad's hold on power and a harbinger for the 2009 presidential elections. The hard-line president has come under increasing criticism — from both allies and opponents — about his failure to fix Iran's economic problems, which have most recently led to heating gas shortages.

Zanjani was appointed chancellor in November 2005 — reversing a precedent that had chancellors chosen by university members, not appointed by the government. During his presidential campaign, Ahmadinejad promised for a more Islamic-orientated approach to his administration, and Zanjani was the first time a cleric headed the university.

Tehran University was founded in the mid-1930s by Reza Shah, the first king of Pahlavi dynasty, which was toppled in the 1979 Islamic revolution headed by late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The university is considered a hub of student demonstrations, including the 1999 streak of protests by pro-democracy students after vigilante militants stormed the university's dormitory.

More recently, students have expressed their anger over a crackdown on pro-reform activists. Since Zanjani's appointment two years ago, many liberal teachers at the university have retired and political activities by students were restricted.

Two protests in December
In December, hundreds of students staged two demonstrations in less than week to protest their disapproval of the increasing crackdown. Two months before, about 100 students staged a protest specifically against Ahmadinejad, chanting "death to the dictator" as he gave a speech at the university, marking the beginning of the academic year.

Farid Hashemi, a Tehran University activist, said he was pleased with the decision to replace Zanjani.

"During Zanjani's leadership, some 114 students were summoned by the disciplinary committee of the university over their political activities. Finally, the recent protests in the dormitory (over mismanagement allegations) provided a clear reason for his dismissal since he could not meet the simple demands of students," Hashemi said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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