TAKING OFF THE MASK, RAFSANJANI ALSO BACKED PRESS CLAMP DOWN

TEHRAN 28TH Apr. (IPS) Conforming his role as the "Grey Eminency" behind the recent tensions created in Iran as a result of the unprecedented clamp down on all pro-reform publications decided by the leader of Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned Friday both President Mohammad Khatami and his reform seeking camp of a military take over coupled with "mass arrests and executions".

"What is happening today is very much like what we had in the first one or two years after the revolution. I can bear witness to the fact that what the leader thinks and the way he acts is comparable to those of the imam during these years", Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani assured in his Friday sermon, referring to the bloody extermination of nationalists, leftists and the Mujahedeens launched by the Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the first years of the victory of the Islamic revolution of 1979.

In an effort to explain the reasons behind the decision of Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i to order the closure of 16 moderate and reformist publications, Mr. Rafsanjani accused the independent journalists he described as "ignorant pen mercenaries" to work as "road rollers" for the Americans who seek to "re-impose their hegemony over Iran", advising them to take "very seriously" the leader's warnings.

Iranian analysts and observers strongly believes that Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani is behind the recent explosive situation that started with the crushing defeat of the conservatives at February Majles (parliament) elections, including that of the Chairman of Expediency Council and culminated with the shutting down of all independent and pro-reform newspapers.

Giving himself the role of Godfather of the regime, Mr. Rafsanjani accused the reformists to have created a situation that is "dangerous for everyone".

"Those who pretend to be supporters of the government are in fact it's worst enemies for they are the ones who weakens it. They harm the Judiciary by giving it political coloration, accuse the judges of handing one-sided verdicts. They accuse the officials. Look at the pressures against the Voice and Visage (Radio and Television). What shall we do once this public media is discredited? How then can we explain our problems to the people when one is systematically accused of lying if not (encouraging) to listen to BBC or Israel?" he said.

Like the leader, he lashed out at length against Germany for the conference organised early this month in Berlin on the subject of "Iran after the elections" at which took part 17 prominent Iranian personalities, including reformist journalists, a secularist lawyer, dissident scholars and intellectuals, independent publisher and an outspoken modern cleric, all whom Mr. Rafsanjani described as "mislead people".

Mr. Rafsanjani, who, as the Chairman of the Council for the Discernment of the State's Interests (CDSI) is considered as the number two man in the Iranian regime's hierarchy said the Germans may have fallen "prey to Washington's plots" by organising the Berlin meeting, a venue that according to him, had "shamefully backfired on the organisers".

He compared this conference to the failed Tabas operation and the Mykonos trial, assuring that in all three cases "invisible hands" saved the Islamic Republic and Revolution, referring to the attempt undertaken by the Carter Administration in April 1980 to rescue the 55 American diplomats that have been taken hostage by Iranian students in November 1979 and the trial of Iranian and Lebanese terrorists who assassinated four leaders of the Democratic party of Iranian Kurdistan in a restaurant in Berlin in 1992.

The rescue operation ended in fiasco after a strong sand storm caused the collision of one helicopter with a plane near the city of Tabas, in Khorasan Province, resulting in the death of several US military servicemen and the destruction of other helicopters and planes on an abandoned airfield.

"In the early morning of the following day, and after news of (President) Jimmy Carter's worry about the existence of sensitive documents in the wrecked American aircrafts, the then (Iranian) President Abolhassan Banisadr who was commander of the Armed Forces ordered the bombing of the remaining American aircraft on the scene by a number of fighter bombers that destroyed those aircrafts together with the same sensitive

documents", the official Iranian news Agency IRNA quoted Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani as having recalled "with sorrow".

Questioned by Iran Press Service, Mr. Banisadr accused Mr. Rafsanjani of "charlatanism", saying not only there were no sensitive documents left, but he never send any plane to bomb out the abandoned and charred US aircraft.

"He (Rafsanjani) is absolutely crazy thinking that people take with them highly sensitive documents during such risky operations", Mr. Banisadr observed.

In Berlin, the High Court had concluded that all the senior religious leaders of the Islamic Republic, including Ayatollah Khameneh'i and the (then) President, Hojjatoleslam Hashemi Rafsanjani were directly involved in the assassination of Iranian dissidents inside and outside the country.

Backing the leader-controlled Television for the controversial screeining of deliberately chosen provocative scenes from the Berlin conference, Mr. Rafsanjani said Iranians have the right to learn everything about that meeting.

Continuing his diatribe against the United States, Mr. Rafsanjani said Washington continues persistently with its traditionally hegemonic policies and devising plots, it again gets help from Iranian liberals, leftists and reformist journalists who enjoys the support of America.

Journalists and analysts dismissed Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani's remarks, attributing his attacks on reformists to his "abysmal fall to disgrace" in the last Majles elections.

"The Chairman of the Expediency Council presented an image of himself never seen in the past 21 years. He was talking about tolerance moderation, but he lost control, strayed away, sided completely with one political faction and accused the other camp. This is a turning point both for him and for the Iranian political life", observed Mr. Sa'id Leylaz, a journalist with the now banned Azaad (Free) daily.

Dismissing his threats of a military action against the reformists, Mr. Leylaz noted that contrary to Mr. Rafsanjani's version of comparison between today situation with that of the early years of the revolution, in both cases the wholeheartedly support provided by the people secured the victory of the regime.

"Today, the great majority of the people back the reformation process and as far as for the role the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij might play, Mr. Rafsanjani ought to be more careful, for this depends largely on what is going on inside the body of these forces and not the obedience of some commanders to one political wing of the leadership", he added in interview with the Persian service of BBC monitored by IPS.

Dr. Mohammad Kazem Mohammadi Esfahani, a professor of Political Science at Tehran University said the impact of Mr. Rafsanjani's address on the people and on the political scene of the nation is "directly proportional" to his present day position and stature.

"It would have been better for him not to take side for one camp against another", he noted.

Mr. Alireza Afshar of the pro-reform "Office of Consolidating Unity" and one of the personalities who was invited to the Berlin meeting said Mr. Rafsanjani's speech was "nothing new". "He had always problems with universities and with students", he reminded.

Mr. Hashem Sabbaqian, a member of the illegal but tolerated nationalist-religious Iran Free Movement told the Persian service of Radio France Internationale that the former president and people like him are "victims" of the "false personalities" they have created for themselves during their time of power.

Describing the closure of all reformist publications as a "press coup", Mr. Sabbaqian said one has to put Mr. Rafsanjani's Friday speech to the account of his defeat in the parliamentary elections.

"The shock Mr. Rafsanjani suffered as a result of his historic defeat was so great that he lost his memory to the extent that he forgot that those in charge of the banned papers are comrades from the time of the revolution, that they are senior officials, that they fought in the (Iran-Iraq) war, that they have martyrs, war veterans and invalids in their families. Mr. Rafsanjani is wrong by mistaking unmasking a personality's real visage is synonymous to character assassination. Mr. Rafsanjani can be certain that people would answer him on the second round of elections", he assured. ENDS RAFSANJANI PRESS 28400