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Iran's Mir-Hossein Mousavi planning new political group

An aide says Mousavi, who was defeated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in last month's disputed election, is forming a political 'front' that will have most of the rights of a political party.

July 15, 2009|Borzou Daragahi

BEIRUT — Iran's leading opposition figure and his wife emerged Tuesday night to pay their respects to the family of a 19-year-old man slain in the nation's recent weeks of violence, according to witnesses and reports on news websites.

Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his popular wife, Zahra Rahnavard, visited the family of Sohrab Aarabi in Tehran, paying tribute to the teenager whose death and whose mother's weeks-long quest to find him have emerged as symbols of the protest movement against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Photographs posted on the Gooya website showed Mousavi and Rahnavard swarmed by supporters as they approached the family's home in the city's north-central Apadana district.

Mousavi has been relatively quiet in recent days as authorities put down protests that erupted over Ahmadinejad being declared the winner of their election faceoff last month. But Mousavi plans to forge a new reformist political front that would challenge the country's dominant conservatives and have most of the rights accorded a political party, his top aide, Ali-Reza Beheshti, said Tuesday.

"Establishing the front is on the agenda of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, and we will announce the relevant news in the near future," Beheshti, the son of a famous cleric, told the semiofficial Iranian Labor News Agency.

Hundreds of thousands of Mousavi's green-clad supporters took to the streets last month in displays of civil disobedience, asserting that the June 12 election was rigged. Mousavi could build on the momentum created by the so-called green wave to create a formidable force.

The deputy chief of Iran's parliament said Tuesday that Ahmadinejad would be sworn in for a second term on or after Aug. 2 and propose a Cabinet for parliament's approval by Aug. 6, another period in which analysts predict protests will erupt.

Iran blames the weeks of postelection unrest on the West. On Tuesday, authorities hanged 13 members of the outlawed ethnic Baluch militant group Jundallah in southeastern Iran for their part in attacks against security forces, but held off on the execution of Abdulhamid Rigi, the brother of the group's leader, Abdulmalak Rigi.

Iran accuses the U.S. of funding the group.

Reformists have tried for years to break through Iran's legal and political restrictions and fend off ideological challenges and accusations of complicity with the West to obtain and exercise power. The Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist political grouping, has been operating for years without gaining influence. Unlike a party, a front cannot call political rallies.

But Mousavi's new organization could gain political muscle with the help of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric who is a pillar of Mousavi's support.

Rafsanjani said he would endorse Mousavi's plan for a "united moderation front," according to Mohammad Hashemi Rafsanjani, the cleric's brother. "He had even formulated the charter to a certain extent, but this front did not materialize for certain reasons," he told ILNA.

At least one prominent conservative, Habibollah Asgaroladi, head of the decades-old Islamic Coalition Party, endorsed the creation of a Mousavi-led political group. "Establishing a party to voice one's ideas and political perceptions is a wise move," he said, according to the website of the state-owned Press TV channel.

Still, most Iranian conservatives close to the elite and increasingly powerful Revolutionary Guard have demanded that Mousavi and his supporters be barred from further participation in Iranian electoral politics.

Iran tightly regulates its political sphere. Candidates for higher public office must be vetted by the conservative Guardian Council, a 12-member panel of clerics and jurists.

But Hamid-Reza Fouladgar, a member of a parliament committee on political parties, said that "activity within the framework of a political front does not require official permission," according to ILNA.

Though authorities have clamped down on journalists and news outlets reporting on the still-simmering anger over Ahmadinejad's reelection, Iranians on both sides of the dispute are gearing up for a potential conflict between supporters of Mousavi and Ahmadinejad at Friday prayers in Tehran, where Rafsanjani is scheduled to deliver the nation's keynote religious sermon for the first time since the election.

News reports on reformist websites have said Mousavi and former President Mohammad Khatami, another prominent reformer, would attend the sermon, bringing their legions of supporters with them.

Ahmadinejad is heading to the eastern city of Mashhad on Thursday, shunning Friday prayers this week. But pro-Ahmadinejad media reported that worshipers would protest Rafsanjani's presence, setting the stage for a potential confrontation, according to the news website Shafaf.ir.

--

daragahi@latimes.com

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