Senior Iranian clerics have criticised President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for consoling Hugo Chavez’s mother with a hug — a physical contact considered a sin under the country’s strict Islamic codes.

The controversy follows a widely published photo showing Mr. Ahmadinejad embracing Chavez’s mother at the funeral of the late Venezuelan president.

Iranian papers on Tuesday cited clerics from the religious centre of Qom, who described the contact as “forbidden” and inappropriate behaviour and “clowning around”.

Iran’s strict Islamic codes prohibit physical contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex.

The conservative clerics also condemned Mr. Ahmadinejad’s condolence letter to Venezuelans in which he called Chavez a ‘martyr’ who will be resurrected and who will return to Earth along with Jesus Christ and Imam Mahdi, a 9th century saint revered by Shiite Muslims.

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