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Last updated: June 2, 2013 4:59 pm
Iran’s judiciary has ordered the closure of a state-owned newspaper with close links to President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad over allegations that it published false news.
The six-month closure of Iran, the widely circulated daily, would be a clear warning to the outgoing president and his allies before this month’s presidential election.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has fallen foul of the regime over the past two years amid accusations from hardliners that he has been disloyal to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, who has the final say in all state affairs.
Domestic media reported the newspaper’s closure without giving more details. Iranian news agencies said the newspaper had the right to appeal. Even a temporary shutdown of a government-owned daily is rare in Iran where many non-government, pro-reform newspapers have been closed over the past 15 years. Some staff of the Iran daily said their managers were lobbying to keep the paper open.
Mr Ahmadi-Nejad has been uncharacteristically quiet since state authorities announced almost two weeks ago that they were barring his close ally, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, from competing in the June 14 election, despite earlier vowing that he would not tolerate any “violation” of the election law.
It was unclear if the elite Revolutionary Guards have imposed any particular restrictions on Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s public meetings and speeches or whether he has decided to leave office quietly and spare his allies a potential crackdown.
Meanwhile, Iranian news agencies reported that the president’s helicopter made an emergency landing on Sunday morning but that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was “unharmed”.
Iran’s hardliners accuse Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s allies of promoting a “deviant current” or “cult” that uses magic and superstition to make political decisions and combines radical religious and nationalist beliefs.
But analysts say the accusations could be a pretext to curb Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s powers at a time when he was seeking to retain influence by having an ally succeed him.
The Islamic regime has taken a similar hard line towards reformists and moderate forces by barring Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist former president, from the June 14 election.
Hassan Rohani, a conservative presidential hopeful and former nuclear negotiator, has turned into the apparent candidate of choice for moderates. But his chance of victory is slim and he also appears to be attracting the attention of the authorities.
The police interrupted a speech by Mr Rohani on Saturday and arrested six of his campaign staff.
The detentions came after some opposition Green Movement supporters joined Mr Rohani’s campaign and chanted slogans in support of Mir-Hossein Moussavi, the jailed opposition leader. “Hello to Rohani, hello to Moussavi” and “political prisoners should be freed”, they chanted.
Mr Moussavi, who ran for president in 2009, claimed the election was massively rigged and encouraged large anti-state street protests which came to an end only after more than 100 deaths and his house arrest.
Iranian authorities now show no tolerance towards any support for the opposition leader.
Esmail Ahmadi-Moqaddam, Iran’s police chief, warned on Sunday that candidates were “committed” not to have any links with the opposition. “But if they [candidates] fail to do so, then naturally the police will intervene and deal with anyone [displaying] antirevolutionary behaviour.”
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