PARIS 2ND Apr. (IPS) Iranians expressed outrage and indignation against Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani after he compared the killing of Assadollah Lajevardi, a former director of the Islamic Organisation of Iranian Prisons with the attempt assassination on the life of Mr. Sa'id Hajjarian, the outspoken Publisher of the reformist daily "Sobhe Emrouz".

Conducting the last Friday sermon in Tehran, the former president pointed to the assassination of Lajevardi and General Sayyad Shirazi, Deputy Commander of the regular Armed Forces as well the failed attempts of the lives of Hojatoleslam Ali Razini, the President of the controversial Clergymen's Special Tribunal and Mr. Sa'id Hajjarian in order to advise the moderate press not to print any unfounded accusation based on wild guesses or on personal feelings.

What shocked most Iranians was that the Head of the Expediency Council most disgracefully and deliberately compared the killing of a man who is known as the "Butcher of Evin" because of his role in the execution of thousands of political prisoners with of a man who is the victim of Islamist extremists.

Furthermore the assassination of both Lajevardi and General Shirazi were claimed by the the Baghdad-based, Iraqi financed and equipped Mujahedeen Khalq Organisation, while the suspects in the case of Mr. Hajjarian allegedly belongs to the Revolutionary Guard.

Since his humiliating defeat in the last Majles (parliament) elections, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani not only has systematically sided with the conservatives against the reformists, but he is thought to have taken the leadership of the ultra-orthodox forces from the lame and badly embattled Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i.

In his Friday sermon, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani joined the leader in urging the independent press and reformist personalities not to add to the present volatile situation of the country in speculating about the failed assassination of Mr. Hajjarian, a close friend and adviser of President Mohammad Khatami who was shot at close range on 12th march as he was entering the Tehran City Council.

Though officials in charge of the case say the killers acted on their own, without any link to any military or political organisations, investigations carried by independent journalists shows that the terrorist belong to the Intelligence Department of the Revolutionary Guards.

"One must be sick and psychologically deranged to make such a comparison", one of Mr. Hajjarian's colleague said, referring to Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani's Friday sermon.

Reformists politicians, newspapers and organisations have protested to the handling of the case by the authorities, including the Intelligence Ministry.

"By making such a shameful comparison, Mr. Rafsanjani has lost the little credit and respect he would still have with some ordinary people, becoming definitely the most hated man in Iran, but also showed that he genuinely deserved the new nickname of "Akbar Copperfield", one journalist pointed out, explaining that the new sobriquet was bestowed to the former president who is considered as a master manipulator, like the famous American prestidigitator David Copperfield. ENDS RAFSANJANI COMPARISON 2400