Mon, Aug 24, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Rafsanjani calls for unity, supports Iranian leader

GUIDELINES: The former Iranian president’s concilatory statement was in stark contrast to his open opposition to Ahmadinejad in the wake of contested elections

REUTERS , TEHRAN

Iranian defense minister-designate Ahmad Vahidi is pictured in Tehran, Iran, in March last year.

PHOTO: AFP

Influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has urged Iranians to follow Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s guidelines, five weeks after he challenged the authority of the country’s most powerful figure.

Rafsanjani, a rival of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who last month defied a call by hardline clerics to back the disputed result of June’s election, also advocated action to foster unity, IRNA news agency reported.

Saturday’s conciliatory statement appeared to be in contrast to a hard-hitting sermon Rafsanjani delivered in the middle of last month, when he declared the Islamic Republic in crisis and demanded an end to arrests of moderates following the vote.

Shortly after that Friday prayer sermon, 50 members of the powerful 86-seat Assembly of Experts called on him to show more support for Khamenei, who endorsed Ahmadinejad’s re-election in the presidential election, which reformers say was rigged.

The poll and its turbulent aftermath plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.

Rafsanjani, a veteran of the revolution, backed moderate Mirhossein Mousavi in the vote. He heads the Assembly of Experts, a constitutional watchdog which in theory can dismiss the leader, as well as the Expediency Council arbitration body.

“The head of the state Expediency Council referred to the observance of the guidelines set by the supreme leader, and confronting lawbreakers, as a necessity under the present conditions,” IRNA said.

It quoted Rafsanjani as saying: “Those in control of podiums, influence and media should avoid stirring schisms ... and take steps toward the creation of unity.”

Iran arrested thousands of people in a crackdown on opposition protests that erupted after the June 12 election. Hundreds, including prominent reformists, remain in jail. Iran staged three mass trials of detainees earlier this month.

Even though the security forces largely quelled the mass demonstrations in the days after the vote, supporters of Mousavi and pro-reform cleric Mehdi Karoubi have shown continued defiance by staging many smaller rallies since then.

Officials reject charges of vote fraud and say the poll was the healthiest in the Islamic state’s history.

Ahmadinejad on Aug. 19 submitted a list of his proposed new Cabinet to parliament, which must approve his nominees, but he faces a tough battle to secure the assembly’s support in what is seen as a test of his hold on power.

The legislature is dominated by conservatives, but some of Ahmadinejad’s backers have abandoned him since the election, even though he enjoys Khamenei’s backing. Moderates see Ahmadinejad’s next government as illegitimate.

Iranian Vice speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar has already warned that up to five members of the 21-strong Cabinet could be rejected.

In a surprise nomination, Ahmadinejad put forward Commerce Minister Massoud Mirkazemi as new oil minister, a key post as Iran is the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter.

With little known experience in the oil industry, he is seen as an ally of Ahmadinejad, who has praised him as a manager.

But the head of parliament’s energy commission, Hamid Reza Katouzian, made clear he did not think Mirkazemi had the right background for the job and warned of “irreversible damage” to the industry, media reported.

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