Elder statesman Hashemi Rafsanjani, a mercurial cleric who has played both sides of Iran's reformist-conservative divide, is rising again as a key challenger to Iran's president after local elections show deep discontent with the president's hard line.
Last week's elections for local councils in towns and cities across Iran were seen as a referendum on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 18 months in office, and results so far were showing widespread victories for his opponents.
Since taking power, Ahmadinejad has escalated Iran's confrontation with the United States and the West on multiple fronts, in particular drawing the threat of UN sanctions for pushing ahead with uranium enrichment in Iran's nuclear program. He has also sparked widespread international outrage for his comments against Israel and casting doubt on the Nazi Holocaust.
The results showed a partial comeback for Iran's reformist movement, which was crushed over the past five years by hard-liners who drove them out of the local councils, parliament and the presidency. The reformers seek closer ties to the West - even the United States - and a loosening of the power of Iran's clerical rulers.
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