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Dissident Cleric in Iran Defiant

November 16, 1999

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ A prominent Iranian cleric confined to his house for his dissident views has rejected efforts by authorities to ease a ban on his visitors, his son said Tuesday.

Authorities had given permission to a group of 15 people to visit Ali Montazeri, who was once hand-picked for Iran’s top spiritual and political post.

His son, Ahmad, did not say who the 15 people were, but the Khordad daily said they included two conservative clerics.

Ahmad quoted his father as saying the authorities ``have no right to decide whom I can meet and whom I can’t. It’s either everyone or no one.″

Montazeri has been isolated under house arrest since 1997 in the city of Qom, about 80 miles southwest of the capital Tehran.

Authorities had welded shut the main entrance to Montazeri’s home, leaving only a rear door that was used by the family. The main entrance was reopened Monday night by the authorities, Ahmad said. Guards watch the house.

The faction loyal to Iran’s reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, has been locked in a power struggle with the hard-line faction responsible for the crackdown on Montazeri. The recent easing of restrictions coincided with a visit by Khatami to Isfahan, Montazeri’s home province.

Montazeri had been expected to succeed the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini as Iran’s supreme leader. But just months before his death in June 1989, Khomeini dismissed Montazeri because of his comments against the clergy.

In November 1997, Montazeri was publicly repudiated after he questioned the legitimacy of rule by the clergy, including Iran’s hard-line spiritual leader Ali Khamenei, who replaced Khomeini.

Khamenei accused Montazeri of treason and, days later, hard-liners attacked Montazeri’s home and office in Qom.

Despite hard-line efforts to repudiate Montazeri, his popularity has not waned. Even many senior officials have admitted to be among his followers.

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