Rafsanjani ousted as head of state body

Reuters: Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani lost his position as head of an important state clerical body on Tuesday after hardliners criticized him for being too close to the reformist opposition.

The defeat for one of the great survivors of Iranian politics since the 1979 Islamic revolution highlighted how opponents of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are being isolated and sidelined.

It follows reports by relatives of reformist opposition leaders Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi — denied by the government — that they have been placed in detention at a secret location to stop them orchestrating pro-democracy protests inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.

Opposition websites have called on people to take to streets in fresh demonstrations on Tuesday, International Women’s Day, despite an official ban.

An ambush challenge by arch hard-liner Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani forced Rafsanjani to withdraw from running for re-election as chairman of the Assembly of Experts.

The 86-member clerical body has the authority to appoint and dismiss Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 71, but it has never exercised that power since the Assembly was established in 1983.

The vote will not have an immediate practical impact on Iran’s complex political structure but analysts said the hardline triumph at the Assembly would further homogenize the clerical establishment by removing any semblance of dissent.

Rafsanjani, who had chaired the body since 2007, said he had no intention of causing discord.

“I regard division at the Assembly as detrimental … I had said before that should he (Mahdavi-Kani) stand for the position, I would withdraw to prevent any rift,” Rafsanjani told the Assembly in a speech, the students news agency ISNA said.

Iranian media reported last week that more than 50 members of the Assembly supported the candidacy of Mahdavi-Kani, but the challenger played coy up to the last minute over whether he would run.

The defeat was a blow to Rafsanjani’s attempt to play a bridging role between dominant Islamic hardliners and the increasingly marginalized reformist opposition since Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in 2009.

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