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Former Iranian President Rafsanjani Dies at Age of 82


FILE - Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, center, arrives for a press briefing after registering his candidacy for the Feb. 26 elections of the assembly at interior ministry in Tehran, Iran, Dec. 21, 2015.

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died Sunday at the age of 82 after suffering a heart attack.

State television interrupted programming to announce the death, saying it came "after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution."

Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, was earlier seen as a top adviser to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Analysts say he also played a key role in choosing Khomeini's successor, after the founder's death in 1989.

Rafsanjani's presidency saw the country seeking to rebuild its economy from the ruinous 1980-1988 war with neighboring Iraq. It was also marked by a series of cautious reforms which saw wider freedoms emerge, particularly in the country's tightly controlled media.

By 2002, however, Rafsanjani's political fortunes had plummeted, as conservatives mounted and sustained criticism of his reformist outreach efforts toward the West. He lost a post-presidential bid that year for a seat in parliament, and in 2005 was soundly defeated in a bid for a second presidential term by conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Four years later, at the height of a massive government crackdown on demonstrators protesting presidential election results, he delivered a speech calling for greater personal freedoms. Analysts and pundits say that 2009 address further alienated him from conservatives and military commanders.

Rafsanjani was denied a third attempt at the presidency in 2013 when Iran's all-powerful Guardian Council barred him from the ballot, a disqualification widely seen as an official rebuke of his reformist efforts.

However, his political protege, Hassan Rouhani, won the presidency and assigned Rafsanjani to oversee planning for direct nuclear talks with the United States.

Rouhani praised Rafsanjani, saying Monday the former leader had more wishes for the country and that up until his death he showed people the right path.

"We are all hopeful to continue his path," Rouhani said.

Rafsanjani also headed Iran's Expediency Discernment Council, an administrative body that advises Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The semiofficial FARS news agency says Rafsanjani will be buried on Tuesday in a state funeral. Schools, offices and other government operations will be closed in the run-up to the ceremony.

Last year his daughter Faezeh Hashemi, a former member of parliament and seasoned political activist, drew fierce criticism in public circles for meeting with leaders of Iran’s Baha’i religious community. It sparked a debate on religious persecution in Iran.

The controversy began when Faezeh appeared in a picture with Fariba Kamalabadi, her former cellmate at Tehran’s Evin prison and a Baha’i activist.

Faezeh had spent six months in Evin for protesting the 2009 presidential election results. She later defiantly described her imprisonment as the “best time of my life” because it had “opened another world” to her.

A year earlier, Rafsanjani's son, Mehdi Hashemi, was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he was convicted of bribery and embezzlement.