Rafsanjani takes a dig at Iran’s leadership

TEHARAN: A powerful cleric-politician, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, criticised Iran’s leadership on Friday on one of the country’s most resonant political stages, the Islamic prayer sermon.

In a boost for the opposition, he said the leadership must clear up doubts over the disputed presidential election and warned of a “crisis.”

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters packed the weekly prayers at Tehran University, chanting slogans in a show of strength to hear

Rafsanjani, who was delivering the sermon for the first time since Iran’s election turmoil began a month ago.

In the front row was opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to have won the June 12 election.

Outside the university, more opposition supporters gathered in a rally after the prayers, chanting “death to the dictator” and “coup government, resignation, resignation.”

Pro-government Basiji militiamen fired volleys of tear

gas at the crowd, said witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government retaliation.

In his sermon broadcast

live on radio nationwide, Rafsanjani reprimanded the

clerical leadership for not listening to the controversy over the election, which was declared a victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in results that Mousavi’s supporters say were fraudulent.

“Doubt has been created (about the election results),” Rafsanjani said. “There is a large portion of the wise people who say they have doubts. We need to take action to remove this doubt.” Rafsanjani couched his sermon in calls for unity in support of Iran’s Islamic Republic. But his sermon was an unmistakable - if implicit - challenge to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has declared Ahmadinejad’s victory valid and demanded an end to questioning of the results.

Rafsanjani said the people’s voice must be considered. “We believe in the Islamic Republic ... they have to stand together,” he said. “If ‘Islamic’ doesn’t exist, we will go astray. And if ‘republic’ is not there, (our goals) won’t be achieved. Where people are not present or their vote is not considered, that government is not Islamic.” He criticised the post election crackdown and urged the release of those arrested and said the government reaction had split the nation’s clerics. “I hope this Friday prayer sermon will be the beginning of a development and will help us pass safely through this problem, which can be unfortunately called a crisis,” he said.

Rafsanjani, a former president, is considered the opposition’s top supporter within Iran’s clerical leadership. He heads two of the three most powerful clerical bodies that oversee the elected government, the Expediency Council and the Experts Council.

He is a bitter rival of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and

is believed to support Mousavi behind the scenes — his

daughter and four other relatives who openly backed Mousavi were briefly detained during protests last month.