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Rafsanjani's main message: Don't write off reformists

Within hours of the Friday sermon, grainy cellphone videos surfaced showing crowds surging away from tear-gas plumes and kicking the canisters back toward police.

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Intermittent clashes between police and protesters persisted in Tehran tonight after an emotional Friday sermon by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's most powerful political opponent, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, that has prolonged Iran's political crisis.

The influential former president broke a month-long silence to deliver a politically ambiguous sermon drawing parallels between the popular rallies that "broke the back of the arrogant Pahlavi regime" in 1979 and the street demonstrations following the disputed election last month.

Mr. Rafsanjani, a key supporter of defeated candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's presidential campaign, stressed his own revolutionary credentials and called for the release of political prisoners. In a voice trembling with emotion, he called for national reconciliation, stressing respect toward the families of those killed during the protests that claimed at least 20 lives. The sermon was carried by BBC Persia, but by none of Iran's state TV channels.

"His real goal was to ensure the reformist camp can be brought into domestic political equation, that it cannot be written off as the [Communist] Tudeh or [Marxist-Islamic] MKO were at the beginning of the revolution," says Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, an Iranian political analyst based in Italy who was in Iran for the recent elections. "Rafsanjani was saying that you can't eject the reformists and discredit them as kafir [infidels], that they're all part of the regime just as much as the hard-liners."

Crowds flee tear gas outside prayer hall

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