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Iran hard-liners urge election ban on top rivals

TEHRAN — Hard-line Iranian lawmakers have petitioned authorities to bar two prominent presidential contenders — a moderate former president and a protege of current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — from running in next month’s election, in a further sign of intense political jockeying over the final ballot.

The Tuesday appeal by nearly 100 Parliament members reflects worries over the potential election-swaying influence of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a close confident of Ahmadinejad. Both could pull votes from two different directions — Rafsanjani appealing to reformists and Mashaei favored by Ahmadinejad’s backers — and shift attention away from other potential front-runners with close ties to the ruling clerics.

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Mashaei faces an uphill battle to get his name on the June 14 ballot because of Ahmadinejad’s feuds with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rafsanjani, however, is perhaps too venerable to be rejected by the election overseers known as the Guardian Council, which vets all candidates and is expected to announce the ballot next week.

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