Iran’s former prez Rafsanjani no more

Rafsanjani, who was ruthless in culling the opposition while in power, later pushed for reforms in Iran.

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Iran's former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died Sunday after a decades-long career, significantly decreasing the reformers' chance to manoeuvre through Iran's political rigmarole. According to media reports the 82-year-old Rafsanjani had been hospitalised north of Tehran earlier on Sunday, where doctors attempted to resuscitate him for nearly an hour and a half before declaring him dead.

Ayatollah Khamenei called Rafsanjani an "old friend and comrade" and said his loss is "difficult and life-decreasing." The government announced three days of mourning, and a funeral was expected to be held on Tuesday. Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997, a period of considerable political change in Iran. Rafsanjani was key in convincing Khomeini to accept a cease-fire after years of crippling stalemate with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider socio-economic freedoms.

Iran’s former president Rafsanjani

Rafsanjani first met Khomeini in Qom in the 1950s and later became a key figure in the Islamic uprising that toppled the Shah regime in 1979.

He also oversaw developments in Iran's nuclear program by negotiating deals with Russia to build an energy-producing reactor in Bushehr, which finally went into service in 2011.

He came to power as in 1980 and served until 1989, when he was elected for the first of two four-year terms as president. During this time, Rafsanjani built his - often contradictory - political character: A supporter of free markets, a pragmatist in matters of international diplomacy and a merciless leader who showed pushed out all challenges to his authority.

Rafsanjani took a dim view of state control of the economy, even in the turbulent years after the Islamic Revolution. He encouraged private businesses, the development of Tehran's stock market as a way to boost Iranian exports and the nation's infrastructure.

But after years of decreasing political value, Rafsanjani came across an unexpected resurgence with the victory of a fellow moderate Hassan Rouhani in 2013; the victory gave him an insider's role in the administration which culminated in the 2015 nuclear pact. Some observers say Rafsanjani's stature as an ally of Khomeini's offered him political safety and was kept close as a potential mediator with the West in the stand-off over Iran's nuclear program.

His had, however, his darker side. He was named by prosecutors as an Iranian official with links to the perpatrators of the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires that killed 85 civilians. Some reformers in Iran accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency - claims he denied and were left unpursued by authorities.

"The title of Islamic Republic is not just a formality," he said in 2009 in the chaos after Ahmadinejad's re-election. "Rest assured, if one of those two aspects is damaged we will lose our revolution. If it loses its Islamic aspect, we will go astray. If it loses its republican aspect, (the Islamic Republic) will not be realised. Based on the reasons that I have offered, without people and their vote there would be no Islamic system."

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