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Iranís rebel cleric freed after 5 years

Qom (Iran), Jan. 30 (Reuters): Iranís foremost clerical dissident was freed from house arrest after five years and made an unrepentant speech to hundreds of supporters today.

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 80, was once considered successor-in-waiting to the founder of the Islamic Republic Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He was confined in 1997 after saying Khomeiniís actual successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was not competent to issue religious rulings.

House arrest was lifted late on Wednesday after relatives said his health was failing. Analysts said hardline authorities feared unrest might erupt if he died while still restricted to his home in the holy city of Qom, 120 km southwest of Tehran.

Montazeri today went to a small mosque near his house where he used to make speeches before house arrest, and gave there his first public address for five years to some 600 supporters, including some senior clerics.

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