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Middle East
Rafsanjani: Iran in crisis
Senior Iranian cleric calls for release of opposition protesters during Friday prayers.
Last Modified: 17 Jul 2009 19:25 GMT

Rafsanjani called on authorities to free those arrested during post-election protests [AFP]

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president, has said that Iran is in "crisis", referring to the upheaval in the country following last month's disputed presidential election.

Delivering a sermon during Friday prayers at Tehran University, Rafsanjani, a known critic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president, also called on the authorities to free those detained during the post-poll protests.

"We are all members of a family. I hope with this sermon we can pass through this period of hardships that can be called a crisis," he said.

"In the current situation it is not necessary for us to have a number of people in prisons ... we should allow them to return to their families," Rafsanjani added.

Among thousands who attended the prayers was Mir Hossein Mousavi, the defeated pro-reform presidential candidate.

It was Mousavi's first public appearance since the June 12 vote, which he says was rigged. The authorities deny any fraud.

The disputed election triggered widespread protests across the country, resulting in at least 20 deaths in clashes between protesters and security forces and government-backed militia.

'Freedom' chants

Rafsanjani in his sermon broadcast live on radio urged people "not to contaminate the position and the sanctuary of Friday prayers by inappropriate] comments and slogans".

In depth


 Video: Iran still 'in crisis'
 Programme: Mousavi and the masses
 Analysis: Iranian republic splintering?
 Programme: Iran: Influence or Threat?
 Q&A: Tweeting from Tehran

But pro-reform supporters interrupted Rafsanjani's sermon chanting slogans of "Freedom! Freedom!".

One caller to Persian radio station said the gate at Tehran University was closed, and people were being turned away.

People outside the university shouted "Death to the dictator" and tear gas was fired in response, witnesses said.

One eyewitness told Al Jazeera: "After continuous shouting by the protesters, the police fired teargas on them. Some were beaten."

"We are free, and based on our constitution, we are free to have peaceful demonstrations. It is not against the law. We are following and keeping to the law."

One witness told the Reuters news agency that at least 15 people had been detained during clashes outside the university.

Alireza Ronaghi, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tehran, said: "Rafsanjani said we must preserve the Islamic nature of our government and without the people's votes and trust, the government cannot be Islamic.

"And that's the argument that Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi [another defeated presidential candidate] have been putting forth.

"He's trying to open a way for solving the standoff, and give a convincing option for those dissatisfied with the election outcome."

Influential cleric

Mousavi, Ahmadinejad's main challenger, has refused to accept the electoral outcome.

Sermon key points

 Immediate release of prisoners arrested in post-election period

 All doubts that surround election must be addressed

 Media censorship must end

 Government and security forces should work within the law

 All Iranians lost in this election

 Guardian Council did not act quickly enough to quell situation

 Election left a bad taste in everybody's mouth

But opposition demands for annulling the results have been rejected by the election authorities and Ahmadinejad, re-elected for a second term, on Thursday accused Western powers of interfering in last month's vote.

Ahmadinejad also criticised Rafsanjani over his support for Mousavi.

Rafsanjani is one of Iran's wealthiest and most powerful men, and one of only four Tehran clerics allowed to address the nation during the weekly Friday prayers.

Rafsanjani heads two of the regime's most powerful bodies: the Expediency Council, which settles disputes over laws between the parliament and the Guardian Council, and the Assembly of Experts – which has the power to appoint, supervise and in theory dismiss the Supreme Leader.

The election strained ties between Iran and Western nations, already at odds over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Gholamhossein Mohseni-Ejei, Iran's intelligence minister, told the Fars news agency: "The vigilant Iranian nation must be aware that tomorrow's sermon should not turn into an arena for undesirable scenes."

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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