Iranians must heed leader’s guidelines: Rafsanjani

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has urged people to follow Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s guidelines, five weeks after he challenged the authority of Iran‹s most powerful figure.

Rafsanjani, who last month defied a call by hardline clerics to back Iran‹s disputed presidential election result, also called for action to foster unity, the official IRNA news agency reported.

The conciliatory statement appeared to be in contrast to a hard-hitting sermon Rafsanjani delivered on July 17, when he declared the Islamic Republic in crisis and demanded an end to arrests of moderates following the election.

Shortly after that sermon, 50 members of the 86-seat Assembly of Experts, the body which appoints the supreme leader, called on Rafsanjani to show more support for Khamenei, who endorsed hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election in the June vote, which reformers say was rigged.

Rafsanjani, a rival of Ahmadinejad, backed moderate Mirhossein Mousavi in the poll.

Rafsanjani heads the Assembly of Experts, a constitutional watchdog which in theory can dismiss the supreme 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 reported.

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

Mousavi and another defeated pro-reform candidate, cleric Mehdi Karoubi, say the election was rigged to secure Ahmadinejad’s re-election. The authorities reject the charge.

IRNA said Rafsanjani called for: "sympathy between officials and the public as a necessity for the country’s passage from the current domestic problems and for confronting the problems created by foreigners."

He added: "All persons and officials must regard themselves as duty-bound to the observance of these criteria and 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 mass opposition protests that erupted after the June 12 poll. Hundreds, including prominent reformists, remain in jail. Iran staged three mass trials of detainees earlier this month.

Mousavi, Karoubi and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami have denounced Ahmadinejad’s next government as "illegitimate."

(Reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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