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Iran's Supreme Leader Targets University

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (file photo)

Iran's leader has declared the financial endowment of the country's largest private university to be religiously illegitimate and unlawful, paving the way for a state takeover of an institution that had become a power center for the nation's moderate reform movement.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's decree, issued Monday, said the endowment of Islamic Azad University, which keeps it financially independent, has "major legal and jurisprudential problems."

The university is largely run by the family of former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate and leading opponent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

It was a major site for opposition protests against Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 reelection and allowed opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi access to its resources during his election campaign.

The university's board set up the endowment, or vaqf, last year to keep it independent in the face of the rising power of Iran's hardliners. That move was challenged by Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters and various factions within the ruling system have battled over its fate.

In his decree, Ayatollah Khamenei said he had asked two groups of legal experts and scholars to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the issue and they had found the endowment to be illegitimate.

Islamic Azad University was founded in 1982 and consists of over 350 branches and satellite campuses throughout Iran with an estimated enrollment of 1.3 million students.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.