Top cleric may be playing role in Iran unrest
One of Iran's most powerful men may be playing a key role behind closed doors in the country's escalating postelection crisis, AP reported.
Former president and influential cleric Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani has made no public comment since Iran erupted into confrontation between backers of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reformists who claim he stole re-election through fraud.
But Iranian TV has shown pictures of Rafsanjani's daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, speaking to hundreds of opposition supporters. And Rafsanjani, who has made no secret of his distaste for Ahmadinejad, was conspicuously absent from an address by the country's supreme leader calling for national unity and siding with the president.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised Rafsanjani, 75, on Friday as one of the revolution's architects and an effective political figure for many years, but he acknowledged that the two have "many differences of opinion."
"Of course, the president's ideas are closer to mine," Khamenei said, warning opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters to halt protests or face the consequences.
Demonstrators clashed with security forces in Tehran on Saturday despite the ultimatum in the most widespread violence of the crisis. There were unconfirmed reports of violence in other Iranian cities.
While his true views, and even his whereabouts, remain unclear, any support for the opposition would place Rafsanjani in direct conflict with many of the most powerful clerics in Iran's highest echelons of power.
Rafsanjani was president between 1989 and 1997, but failed to win a third term when in 2005, losing to Ahmadinejad in a runoff. He was a close follower of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, father of Iran's Islamic Revolution. He now heads the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council, which can block legislation.
He also is the head of the powerful Assembly of Experts, which comprises senior clerics who can elect and dismiss the country's supreme leader.