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Regime stronger after protests: Rafsanjani

Tehran, July 11 (AFP): A wave of recent protests and unrest has only served to strengthen the position of Iran’s clerical regime, powerful former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in his Friday prayer sermon.

“The recent riots have helped the regime become stronger,” he said, branding as “infantile” the 10 days of protests last month as well as Wednesday night’s demonstration around Tehran University marking the fourth anniversary of pro-democracy riots.

“US politicians were so excited: they thought the regime has reached its end,” Rafsanjani said. “But these incidents were so infantile, and police controlled them with minimum effort.”

“The regime did not even have to resort to a massive eight million-strong Basij force or even the Pasdaran,” he added, referring to the volunteer Islamist militia and the elite Revolutionary Guards.

Rafsanjani, still a powerful figure in Iran as head of the country’s top political arbitration body, warned students and young people “not to be deceived” and be “more alert and careful and cause no more trouble for the Iranian nation”.

“They can criticise and voice their requests, but must bear in mind that people can distinguish between treason and doing a service,” he warned.

On Wednesday night, tens of thousands of people defied a huge police deployment by filling an area around Tehran University in their cars to mark the anniversary of student riots in 1999, when at least one student was killed and hundreds arrested or injured.

Quoted by the student news agency ISNA, a deputy governor general of Tehran province, Rezaee Babadi said “around 250 people were arrested on Wednesday night”, but added that many had since been freed.

That protest, which saw people take to their cars and honk their horns in defiance, came hot on the heels of last month’s 10 days of anti-regime demonstrations, marked by clashes and the chanting of virulent slogans targeting Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — from whom hardliners take their cue — but also embattled reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

The accompanying crackdown last month saw 4,000 people arrested, the hardline judiciary said.

Canada yesterday summoned the Iranian ambassador to demand an explanation as to how a Canadian freelance photographer who was arrested last month ended up with serious injuries in hospital.

Relatives say 54-year-old Zahra Kazemi -- who also holds an Iranian passport -- was beaten into a coma shortly after she was arrested on June 23 for taking pictures of a prison in Tehran. They say Iran has accused Kazemi of being a spy.

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