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Iran's Ahmadinejad to contest banning of his aide from presidential race

By Shirzad Bozorgmehr, CNN
May 28, 2013 -- Updated 1623 GMT (0023 HKT)
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei wave during a conference in Tehran on May 11.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, right, and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei wave during a conference in Tehran on May 11.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Official campaigning by the 8 approved presidential candidates will start on Friday
  • President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says he will contest the disqualification of his top aide
  • Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is also among those disqualified
  • Iran's Guardian Council decides who can stand in the elections on June 14

Tehran (CNN) -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will challenge the disqualification of his top aide from next month's presidential election, Iran's state-run Press TV reported Wednesday.

Only eight candidates have been approved to run for office from more than 680 candidates who had registered for the June 14 election.

Read more: Ahmadinejad shows no signs of going quietly

Along with Ahmadinejad's aide, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the name of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also notably absent from the list of approved nominees, as was that of former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

The vetting process was carried out by Iran's Guardian Council, the country's most influential clerical body, which operates under the watchful eyes of Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamenei.

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Ahmadinejad appealed for his supporters to be patient Wednesday, saying on his website that he would seek help from Khamenei.

Ahmedinejad said "the rights of the oppressed will not be trampled on in a country where there exists a supreme religious leader," referring to Khamenei, and insisted that he expected the issue to "be resolved."

Ahmadinejad, who is term-limited and so cannot run for a third consecutive term, has been grooming Mashaei to take over for years.

The head of Rafsanjani's election campaign office said the former president will not object to the Guardian Council's decision, Press TV reported.

The eight approved nominees, whose names were released by Iran's Interior Ministry late Tuesday, are:

-- Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former Parliament speaker whose daughter is married to Khamenei's son;

-- Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, who also represents Iran in talks with the European Union;

-- Mohsen Rezaei, currently a member of the Expediency Council and formerly the country's top commander during the war with Iraq;

-- Hassan Rouhani, currently head of the Center for Strategic Studies and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator under former President Mohammad Khatami.

-- Mohammad Reza Aref, an education minister in the Khatami presidency who could be characterized as independent;

-- Mohammad Ghalibaf, a member of the Revolution Guard's Corp and currently the mayor of Tehran;

-- Mohammad Gharazi, a minister during Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's presidency;

-- Ali Akbar Velayati, twice foreign minister during the Rafsanjani presidency and currently the supreme leader's top adviser.

Among the approved nominees, only Gharazi, Aref and Rouhani are not known to be devout followers of Khamenei.

The run-up to the elections has been characterized by factionalism and political infighting, observers say.

Four years ago, Ahmadinejad's reelection sparked mass protests amid claims of electoral fraud. His chief rival, reformist Mir Hossein Moussavi, became a leader of the opposition Green Movement along with Mehdi Karrubi. The two subsequently were placed under house arrest, where they remain.

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Rafsanjani's last-minute registration on Saturday had the potential to change the face of the election.

Rafsanjani, who served two terms as president from 1989 to 1997, has long been a staunch critic and bitter political rival of Ahmadinejad.

Weeks after the 2009 elections, Rafsanjani condemned the regime's violent crackdown against the opposition movement and spoke out for the people's right to peacefully protest. He later toned down the attacks and made statements of apparent support of the regime and Khamenei.

He is widely believed to be one of the wealthiest and most politically powerful men in Iran.

A government news website cited the Interior Ministry's elections chief, Seyed Solat Mortazavi, as saying official campaigning would begin on Friday and last for 20 days, ending June 12.

Voters also will elect members of city and rural Islamic councils on June 14.

Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency said the eight presidential candidates would collectively have 539 hours of free TV and radio time to outline their plans.

CNN's Laura Smith-Spark, Reza Sayah, Tara Kangarloo and Saad Abedine contributed to this report.

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