DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's semi-official Mehr news agency said on Tuesday that it had heard that the Guardian Council, which is vetting candidates for next month's presidential election, had barred former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and a leading ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from running.
If true, the exclusion of Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, a former chief of staff to Ahmadinejad detested by the clerical establishment, would leave the presidential race dominated by hardline conservatives close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The Council, a conservative body of clerics and jurists, had until Tuesday to announce to the Interior Ministry which of around 700 would-be candidates it will allow to contest the June 14 poll.
The Interior Ministry said the names of approved candidates would be announced on Wednesday, according to Iran's English-language Press TV.
Mehr said its reporter had heard a list of eight candidates approved by the Council that did not include either Rafsanjani or Mashaie. Mehr gave no source for its story and Reuters could not confirm it.
"It is worth mentioning that the Guardian Council has still not yet officially announced these names, and the listed names are just what Mehr's reporter has heard," the report said.
The eight approved candidates listed by Mehr included chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati.
A spokesman for the Guardian Council said on Monday that it would bar physically feeble candidates, a comment seen by many as a hint that it could disqualify the 78-year-old Rafsanjani.
Analysts regard Rafsanjani, sidelined from power over his tacit support for opposition leaders after the disputed 2009 election, as a significant challenge to Khamenei.
They say he would be likely to attract more reform-minded, liberal voters who might otherwise not vote. Rafsanjani had said he would not stand unless Khamenei approved his candidacy.
(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Kevin Liffey)