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Sat 18 Jul 2009 01:41 PM

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Rafsanjani backs 'law-breakers' - Iran hardliner

Rafsanjani had said many Iranians doubt the official result of the June 12 vote.

Rafsanjani backs 'law-breakers' - Iran hardliner
IRAN POLITICS: Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts. (Getty Images)

A hardline editor seen as close to Iran's top authority accused former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Saturday of backing "law-breakers," highlighting deepening establishment divisions after a disputed election.Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the Kayhan daily, also criticised Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric and rival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for saying in a sermon on Friday that the Islamic Republic was in crisis.

In apparent defiance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rafsanjani said many Iranians had doubts about the official result of the June 12 vote. He also took issue with the way the authorities had handled the poll and its aftermath.

As he led Friday prayers at Tehran University for the first time since the election, tens of thousands of protesters used the event to stage a huge show of dissent.

Clashes erupted near the university between police and followers of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who came second and still contests results that showed Ahmedinejad was re-elected by a wide margin.

The government has portrayed post-election mass protests last month as the work of local subversives, or "rioters", and Western powers seeking to topple the Islamic establishment.

"Most certainly Mr Rafsanjani is familiar with the definition of a crisis ... The most meaningful word to describe the current conditions is a conspiracy," Shariatmadari said in an editorial. He is seen as a close ally of Khamenei.

He said Rafsanjani, a moderate who backed Mousavi's election campaign, had done nothing to prevent the gathering of Mousavi supporters inside and outside Tehran University, where prayers are held each Friday and broadcast live on state radio.

"At the same time he used every opportunity available to challenge the outcome of the election," wrote Shariatmadari, who earlier this month called for Mousavi and another leading reformist to be put on trial for "terrible crimes".

Noting Rafsanjani had urged everybody to abide by the law, the editorial added in a reference to Mousavi supporters who defied a protest ban: "Mr Rafsanjani ... not only disregarded what he had said but openly supported the law-breakers."

Intelligence Minister Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei also took aim at Rafsanjani, saying his top priority had been to prevent Ahmadinejad's re-election "at any cost", the pro-government Vatan-e Emrooz newspaper reported.

The minister said arch-foe Israel also opposed Ahmadinejad winning a second term and had plotted to assassinate him in meetings with an exiled Iranian opposition group, media said.

Last year, Ahmadinejad accused the United States of planning to kill him during a visit to Iraq in March. His adviser later said there was also a conspiracy to assassinate the president at a U.N. summit in Italy in mid-2008.

June's vote stirred the most striking display of internal unrest in Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, since the 1979 revolution and exposed deep rifts in its ruling elite.

It has also further strained ties between Iran and the West, already at odds over Tehran's nuclear programme. Western powers criticised the crackdown. Iran accused them of meddling.

Rafsanjani, who heads the Assembly of Experts - a powerful body that can in theory dismiss the supreme leader - in his sermon demanded the immediate release of people detained in the unrest and called for press curbs to be relaxed.

He did not go as far as Mousavi in denouncing the conduct of the vote, but his remarks still posed a clear challenge to Khamenei, the most senior cleric who has upheld the election result and accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.

At least 20 people died in post-election violence. Mousavi and the authorities blame each other for the bloodshed. Riot police and religious Basij militia eventually suppressed June's street demonstrations, but Mousavi has remained defiant. (Reuters)

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