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Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has died aged 82, local media say.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a dominant figure in Iran’s politics since the 1980s, was the country’s president from 1989 to 1997.

He suffered a heart attack.

Rafsanjani played a pivotal role in the 1979 revolution but later in life became a counterpoint to hard-line conservatives.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hailed a “companion of struggle” despite their differences, saying that the loss was “difficult and overwhelming”.

“The different opinions and interpretations at time in this long period could never entirely break up the friendship between us,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.

The government declared three days of national mourning.

Image source Wikimedia

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was admitted to the Shohadaa Hospital in Tehran on January 8, where doctors tried unsuccessfully for an hour to save him, media said.

A TV broadcaster broke into programs to bring the news, saying the former president “after a life full of restless efforts in the path of Islam and revolution, had departed for lofty heaven”.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani had warm relations with President Hassan Rouhani, who was seen at the hospital shortly before the death was announced. A crowd reportedly gathered at the hospital later to mourn.

He was born in 1934 in south-eastern Iran to a family of farmers.

He studied theology in the holy city of Qom with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – who went on to lead the Islamic revolution of 1979 – and was imprisoned several times under the Shah.

In the last year of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Ayatollah Khomeini appointed Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani acting commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

He was seen as the main mover behind Iran’s acceptance of the UN Security Council resolution that ended the war.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also a key player in the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

He was a man known for a sharp wit but who could also be ruthless.

He advocated progressive economic policies, encouraging private businesses and improving infrastructure. His own business holdings were reported to be widespread.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani ran for a third time for president in 2005 but lost to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He became openly critical of the victorious president and in 2009, he sided with reformers who disputed that year’s elections. Nevertheless, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a second term.

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani continued to champion moderate causes, such as the release of political prisoners and greater political freedoms for parties prepared to work within the constitution.

Iran’s reformists have won a landslide victory in Tehran, in the first elections since the country signed a nuclear deal with world powers.

With 90% of the votes counted, the allies of reformist President Hassan Rouhani – the pro-Rouhani List of Hope – are set to take all 30 seats in Tehran.

The leading conservative candidate Gholamali Haddad-Adel is in 31st place.

Millions voted on February 26 to elect the 290-seat parliament as well as members of the Assembly of Experts.

The 88-member assembly appoints Iran’s Supreme Leader and might end up choosing a successor to Ayatollah Khamenei, who is 76 and has suffered ill-health.Iran elections results 2016

Early results gave former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate Conservative, and Hassan Rouhani the most votes for the assembly, which is composed of mostly elder and senior clerics.

By contrast, the leading candidate of Islamic hardliners, Ayatollah Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, was hovering near the bottom of the list.

The parliamentary result in Tehran is significant because lawmakers from the capital usually determine the political direction of the house, analysts say.

However, reformists look to have done less well in constituencies outside the capital.

Hassan Rouhani said on February 27 that the election gave the government more credibility and clout.

“The competition is over. It’s time to open a new chapter in Iran’s economic development based on domestic abilities and international opportunities,” the official Irna news agency quoted the president as saying.

“The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government.”

Voting was extended three times as crowds reportedly flocked to polling stations. Turnout was more than 60%.

Reformists, who want better relations with the outside world and more freedoms at home, were hoping to gain influence in the conservative-dominated bodies.

However, of 12,000 people who registered as candidates, only half were allowed to stand, including just 200 moderates.

This was the first election to be held since last year’s deal between Iran and world powers over the country’s nuclear program and the lifting of sanctions.