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Ex-Iranian president accused of challenging supreme leader

By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press / September 3, 2009

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TEHRAN - The commander of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard accused former president Mohammad Khatami and other top reformists of challenging the authority of the nation’s supreme leader - an assertion that could signal that Iran’s crackdown on opposition figures may seek to reach higher.

The sharp attack by General Mohammad Ali Jafari effectively labels Khatami and others as potential foes of the ruling system and could place them at higher risk of being directly punished by hard-line authorities, which would be a major escalation of the postelection confrontation.

Khatami’s former vice president, Mohammad Abtahi, is among more than 100 activists and proreform politicians facing trial on charges of plotting against the Islamic regime following the disputed presidential elections in June.

But Khatami and several other opposition leaders - including the election challengers to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - have not been detained.

Jafari’s accusations could open more room for action against Khatami and others such as Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose backers say was robbed of victory by massive vote fraud. It also pointed to possible new rifts in the establishment about how to deal with the top opposition figures.

Jafari was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as alleging that Khatami and allies encouraged the massive street protests after the vote and tried to undermine the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the pinnacle of power in Iran’s theocracy.

“The goal of postelection riots was to bring a change in the behavior of the Islamic Republic, a change in directions, a deviation from principles,’’ Jafari was quoted as saying.

Khatami has reacted angrily to similar allegations, saying government leaders were accused of “treason’’ in the public’s eyes because of the fraudulent vote and their attack on reformists simply aimed to “justify violent, illegal, and monopolistic behavior.’’

Last week, Khamenei appeared to offer some greater protection for the opposition leaders, saying he had seen no evidence to back up allegations that they had links to foreign powers. But the Revolutionary Guard - which has shown increasingly loyalty to Ahmadinejad - seems determined to increase pressure on Khatami and others after Iran’s worst internal turmoil since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.