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Arrests point out rift among clerics

Former Iranian president's kin held

Protesters confront police in Tehran on Saturday.
Protesters confront police in Tehran on Saturday.Read moreAssociated Press

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's government said yesterday it arrested the daughter and four other relatives of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the country's most powerful men, in a move that exposed a rift among the ruling Islamic clerics over the disputed presidential election.

State media also reported at least 10 more deaths, bringing the official toll for a week of confrontations to at least 17. State television inside Iran said 10 were killed and 100 injured in clashes Saturday between demonstrators contesting the result of the June 12 election and black-clad police wielding truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.

Police and members of the Basij militia took up positions in the afternoon on major streets and squares, including the site of Saturday's clashes. There was no word on any new clashes yesterday, although after dark many people in Tehran went to their rooftops to shout "Death to the dictator" and Allahu akbar," a common form of defiance in recent days.

State-run Press TV reported that Rafsanjani's eldest daughter, Faezeh Hashemi, and four other unidentified family members were arrested late Saturday. They were reportedly freed yesterday.

Last week, state television showed images of Hashemi, 46, speaking to hundreds of supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. He alleges fraud in the June 12 election, which the government said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won.

The arrests are the strongest sign yet of a serious divide among Iran's ruling clerics.

Rafsanjani, 75, heads two powerful institutions. One of them, the cleric-run Assembly of Experts, has the power to monitor and remove the supreme leader, the country's most powerful figure. The second is the Expediency Council, a body that arbitrates disputes between parliament and the unelected Guardian Council, which can block legislation.

The assembly has never publicly reprimanded the unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei since he succeeded Islamic Revolution founder Aytollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989. But the current crisis has rattled the once-untouchable stature of the supreme leader with protesters openly defying his orders to leave the streets.

Rafsanjani was deeply critical of Ahmadinejad during the presidential campaign and has the potential to lead an internal challenge to Khamenei.

His daughter's arrest came as something of a surprise: In his Friday sermon to tens of thousands of worshippers, Khamenei praised Rafsanjani as one of the architects of the revolution and an effective political figure for years. Khamenei acknowledged, however, that the two have "many differences of opinion." *