Barred from election, Rafsanjani lambasts Iranian authorities

DUBAI (REUTERS) - Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani sharply criticised the country's leadership, opposition website Kaleme said on Thursday, two days after he was disqualified from running in next month's presidential election.

"I don't think the country could have been run worse, even if it had been planned in advance," Mr Rafsanjani reportedly told members of his campaign team on Wednesday, the well respected website reported.

"I don't want to get stoop to their propaganda and attacks but ignorance is troubling. Don't they understand what they're doing."

The comments seem certain to fan divisions between Iran's clerical rulers and opposition groups.

Iran's best known political grandee, Mr Rafsanjani entered the June 14 vote as a reformist candidate at the last minute, igniting interest in a ballot many had viewed as a race between conservatives hardliners.

But on Tuesday the Guardian Council, the state body that vets all candidates, disqualified the 78-year-old along with an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie.

Mr Rafsanjani did not indicate specifically who he was addressing in the comments reported by Kaleme.

But after unrest following the disputed re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad in 2009, he criticised the heavy-handed response of the authorities and has since been regarded as a threat to the establishment.