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Iran’s top ayatollah targets university

State set to wrest control of school from moderates

By Ali Akbar Dareini
Associated Press / October 12, 2010

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TEHRAN — Iran’s leader issued a decree yesterday paving the way for a state takeover of the country’s largest private university, in a crushing blow to the nation’s moderates.

The Islamic Azad University is the center of power for the Iranian president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist and key supporter of Iran’s moderates.

The institution, founded in 1982, was a major site for opposition protests against the 2009 disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which opponents say was fraudulent.

The decree of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, declared the university’s endowment, which keeps it financially independent, to be religiously illegitimate and therefore null and void.

The endowment, or vaqf in Farsi, was set up in 2009, shortly after the elections by the university board to keep it independent in the face of the rising power of hard-liners in the ruling system.

The university, with more than one 1.3 million students in more than 350 branches nationwide, allowed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi free access to its huge resources during his election campaign, allowing his voice to be heard all over Iran.

Ever since, Ahmadinejad and his extremist camp have intensified efforts to strip Rafsanjani of this multibillion dollar power house. The assets of the university are estimated to be around $250 billion.

In a separate development yesterday, Iran said it had arrested two foreigners as they were interviewing the son of a woman whose death sentence by stoning on an adultery conviction ignited international outrage.

Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi, a judiciary spokesman, said the two foreigners had entered the country on tourist visas and did not have documents to prove they were journalists.

His comments were carried on the official IRNA news agency.

In Berlin, the German Journalists’ Association said two German journalists were arrested Sunday while interviewing Sajjad Qaderzadeh, the son of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtian, 43.

The union did not name the journalists but urged Iran to immediately release them.

The whereabouts of Qaderzadeh and his mother’s lawyer, Houtan Kian, were not immediately known and their cellphones have been switched off since the foreigners’ arrest, possible indications that they, too, are in custody.

The arrests are likely to draw even more international condemnation of Iran, already under fire from the West over its nuclear program.

Also, the United State has repeatedly condemned Iran for holding two American men in prison for 14 months. Iran initially accused the two of crossing the border from Iraq illegally but later leveled more serious allegations of spying.

An American woman arrested with the two was released last month on humanitarian grounds. She and the US government insist the three were innocent hikers and if they crossed the border, it was inadvertent.

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