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    Rafsanjani marks anniversary with call for end to factional squabbling

    TEHRAN, Feb 1 (AFP) - Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani called on Iran's political factions to end their squabbling Monday, warning that disunity poses the biggest threat to the Islamic revolution as it marks its 20th anniversary.

    Rafsanjani, a top adviser to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, described the "endless bickering" between reformist supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami and conservative hardliners as "poison" and warned the rival factions against "any dissension."

    "We must all ... close ranks and gather around the leader and the clergy," Rafsanjani told a crowd of thousands gathered at the south Tehran mausoleum of the leader of the Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

    Wrangling between "the rigid-minded" and "supporters of unrestrained freedom" within the regime "is exactly what the enemy wants," he told the crowds gathered for the official launch of 10 days of anniversary celebrations.

    The former middle-of-the road president and current head of the key State Expediency Council, which settles constitutional wrangles, warned that there were now many in Iran's young population who had no memory of the heady days of the revolution 20 years ago.

    "The enemy is aiming for the country's youth ... Those who are younger than 25 don't remember ... the developments that led to the revolution and the enemy is taking full advantage," he said.

    Nearly 50 percent of Iranians were born after the revolution and organizers of the anniversary celebrations which began on Monday are organizing a string of events, including for the first time a pop festival, in a bid to capture their imagination.

    But Rafsanjani strongly defended the revolution's successes, singling out its achievement of ecomomic and military self-sufficiency.

    "If we didn't have this great military might, we would have been swallowed up in a mouthful by the Americans like Iraq," he said.

    "The United States can see with their satellites the Shahab-3 missile we exhibited at the Tehran international fair," he said. The Shahab-3, which has a 1,350 kilometer (800 mile) range, is on display at Tehran's main fairground for a weapons exhibition to commemorate the Islamic revolution's 20th anniversary.

    A successful test launch of the Iranian-made missile last July sparked intense concern in the United States and its main regional ally Israel, which lies within the missile's range.

    "The Americans are dying of envy at this success and our country's great military force," Rafsanjani said. "Look today how the American and British air forces are dominating the skies of Iraq," he said, adding that Iran's armed forces would guarantee the country's security "against all plots."

    The speeches at the anniversary's official launch were interpersed with revolutionary songs sung by serried ranks of Iranian armed forces personnel in full ceremonial uniform to the accompaniment of a military band.

    The first main speech was delivered by Khomeini's grandson, Hassan Khomeini, who praised his late grandfather as a "national hero and a great figure in Islam's brilliant history."

    At precisely 9:33 a.m. (0603 GMT) the crowds marked the exact moment the Air France jumbo bringing Khomeini back from 15 years in exile landed at Tehran airport on February 1, 1979.

    "Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest)," the crowds chanted repeatedly as a clock played over the mausoleum's loudspeakers completed its countdown.

    The ceremony kicked off 10 days of celebrations officially dubbed the Ten Days of Dawn, which run through to February 11, the anniversary of the overthrow of Iran's last imperial government and the establishment of the Islamic Republic.


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