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Anti-U.S. Slogans Prevented in Iran

December 12, 1999

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Thousands of pro-reform university students cheered Iran’s reformist president Sunday, drowning out hard-line classmates who were chanting anti-American slogans during a presidential speech.

At a university basketball stadium, thousands of student supporters clapped, whistled and cheered as President Mohammed Khatami said his nation’s problems are with the U.S. government, not its people.

``When we say that a tall wall of mistrust exists between Iran and the United States, this is not a mere slogan,″ Khatami said in the speech at the Science and Technology University in Tehran.

But ``we have no hostility toward the American nation,″ Khatami said, sending the stadium packed with some 5,000 students and academics into cheers.

The cheers of ``Khatami, Khatami″ drowned out a small group of students who turned up to support Khatami’s hard-line opponents and chanted ``death to America.″

Iran-U.S. ties have been strained since Washington severed ties over the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran by Islamic militants. Relations thawed after the May 1997 election of the moderate president.

Khatami’s reformist faction is locked in a power struggle with powerful Islamic hard-liners who oppose his efforts to grant greater freedoms and end hostility with the United States.

At the speech, some students carried portraits of Abdollah Nouri, a close ally of Khatami who was sentenced to five years in prison last month by a hard-line court. Powerful hard-liners have shut down four pro-reform newspapers in the past year, including Nouri’s, in an effort to derail Khatami’s reforms. Several writers and intellectuals have been harassed and jailed.

``President Khatami is a good leader and his reforms will succeed,″ said Farzad Hamii, a 23-year-old university student who was among the crowd.

``But the reforms must be speeded up,″ he said. ``Mr. Khatami is too polite and logical in his approach to the hard-liners. But we young people don’t understand that, all we know is that we want social reforms and freedoms.″

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