Iran leader Rafsanjani rallies opposition

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Iran’s political opposition mounted a massive new show of strength Friday that included a tough speech by one of Iran’s most influential figures, deepening divisions within the regime’s elite and showing that the crisis gripping the nation for the past five weeks is far from over.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, addressing Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time since the disputed June 12 presidential elections, harshly criticized the government for ignoring complaints about electoral fraud.

He said the Islamic Republic was behaving in a manner that was neither Islamic nor respectful of citizens’ rights and called for the release of political prisoners and a restoration of free speech.

“Where people are not present or their vote is not considered, that government is not Islamic,” Mr. Rafsanjani said, according to a translation by the Associated Press.

“Doubt has been created [about the election results],” he said. “There is a large portion of the wise people who say they have doubts. We need to take action to remove this doubt.”

Since the inception of the Islamic government, Mr. Rafsanjani has been among its most powerful members. A close ally of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 revolution, Mr. Rafsanjani has held a series of influential posts. He was speaker of the parliament in the 1980s, president from 1989-1997, and currently heads both the Expediency Council — a body charged with resolving disputes among government institutions — and the Assembly of Experts — a group of 86 Shi’ite Muslim clerics that is supposed to oversee the office of the supreme leader of Iran.

Although Mr. Rafsanjani called for unity in support of the country’s system of government, tens of thousands of those present at the sermon and outside the grounds of Tehran University, chanted slogans demanding “freedom” and criticizing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Police used tear gas on the crowd and arrested dozens, eyewitnesses told The Washington Times.

Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who asserts that he won the presidential election, was among the worshippers for the first time since the disputed vote. Many in the audience wore green headbands or wristbands or had green prayer rugs, the AP reported.

Green was the color of Mr. Mousavi’s campaign.

Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, a former member of the Iranian parliament who is now a visiting scholar at MITs Center for International Studies, said there were new slogans that showed the crowd’s support for democracy and opposition to authoritarian rule.

“They chanted ‘Death to Russia’ instead of ‘Death to America,’” the standard slogan when pro-government clerics address Friday prayers in Iran, she said.

She said that many Iranians believe that Russia has trained some of Iran’s anti-riot security forces to try to prevent a “color” revolution like those that occurred in former Soviet republics Ukraine and Georgia.

The AP said some in the crowd also chanted “Death to China” in an apparent critique of China’s recent crackdown on Muslim demonstrators in Xinjiang province, as well as the Iranian government, which has been silent about China’s behavior.

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About the Author
Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is assistant managing editor for World and National Security at The Washington Times and the author of a 2007 book on Iran, titled “Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S. and the Twisted Path to Confrontation.” Before joining The Times in July 2008, she was senior diplomatic reporter for USA Today. She has accompanied three secretaries of state ...

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