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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 18:17 GMT
Who's Who in Iran
President Mohammad Khatami's reformists are at loggerheads with the conservative hardline clergy. These are some of the key players in the fierce battle for power.

Ayatollah Khamenei

Ayatollah Khamenei is Iran's supreme spiritual leader and the highest authority in the land.
He succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989 after eight years as president, but he does not have his predecessor's charisma or authority.

Last year's student protests saw him the target of unprecedented criticism.

Ayatollah Khamenei, now 60, began his political activities while a theology student and ended up in prison under the Shah.

He rose to prominence when Ayatollah Khomeini made him a member of the Revolutionary Council in 1979. He lost the use of his right hand in an assassination attempt by the Mojahedin-e Khalq opposition group in 1981, shortly before he became president.

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President Mohammad Khatami

Mohammad Khatami was swept to victory in 1997 after gaining almost 70% of the votes and is widely supported by students and women.
He is a reformer who is keen to curb the powers of the clerical institutions and forge ties with the West. He has already angered many conservative clerics by liberalising the press.

President Khatami, 57, believes in gradual change, but he is under pressure from his own supporters who want more radical and faster reforms.

Before becoming president, he was cultural adviser to his predecessor Hashemi Rafsanjani and head of Iran's National Library. His father was a close friend of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Hashemi Rafsanjani

Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani joined the election race at the last moment.
Mr Rafsanjani, 66, a veteran of the Islamic Revolution, is one of the most influential post-revolutionary politicians in Iran.

It is thought he was brought in to give the right wingers a powerful candidate against the reformists and to prevent possible violence by extreme hardliners who feared anihilation in the polls.

He is a pragmatist and believes in economic development, but he has been criticised for nepotism, cronyism and populism.

Mr Rafsanjani was president from 1989 until 1997 and is now head of the influential Expediency Council which advises Ayatollah Khamenei.

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Abdollah Nouri

Former interior minister Abdollah Nouri is the most popular politician among students after President Khatami.
He is a leading left-winger who was close to Ayatollah Khomeini and was his representative in many revolutionary bodies.

Mr Nouri, 51, resigned as leader of Tehran City Council to stand for the elections.

But his chances were scuppered when a clerical court jailed him for ''spreading anti-Islamic propaganda'' in his newspaper. His supporters say the trial was politically motivated.

Mr Nouri lost his post as interior minister in 1998 after being impeached for his reformist tendencies.

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Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi

Ayatollah Yazdi is the former head of the judiciary, which he turned into a bastion of the right.
He has been often criticised by liberals for undermining the judicial system.

One of his changes was to establish general courts which gave total power to the judge and did away with many of the safeguards for the defendant.

Ayatollah Yazdi was deputy speaker in parliament under Rafsanjani for several years. He is now a member of the powerful Council of Guardians.

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Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahrudi

Ayatollah Shahrudi is head of the judiciary and close to both the president and the supreme leader.
He has promised to co-operate with President Khatami in reforming the judiciary. However, he was appointed to the post by Ayatollah Khamenei, whom he advises on religious matters.

Ayatollah Shahrudi, 52, has already removed a number of hardliners from the judiciary.

He is broad-minded and relatively untouched by the factionalism which affects the ruling clerics in Tehran.

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Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri

Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri is the right-wing speaker of the house and stood in the 1997 presidential elections against Khatami.
He became involved in politics in 1963 as an anti-Shah activist while studying under Ayatollah Montazeri in the holy city of Qom.

After being arrested numerous times he eventually fled to Lebanon and Syria.

But Mr Nateq-Nouri, now 57, quickly rose to prominence in post-revolutionary Iran and was Minister of Interior from 1981-85.

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Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri

Ayatollah Montazeri is one of Iran's highest ranking theologians and has a mass following among religious reformists.

He was once nominated to succeed Ayatollah Khomeini, but was sacked by him for disagreeing on policy issues including human rights on which he took a softer line.

He is currently under house arrest in the holy city of Qom after criticising Ayatollah Khamenei for interfering in secular matters.

Ayatollah Montazeri, now 78, was repeatedly imprisoned during anti-Shah protests in the 1960s.

He was sentenced to 10 years in 1975, but was freed three years later and made a member of the Council of Revolution.

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