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Iran President Pushes Reform Agenda

April 29, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Defiant against a fierce hard-line crackdown on Iran’s pro-democracy movement, President Mohammad Khatami insisted Saturday that the reforms he started three years ago could not be stopped.

Khatami’s statement was his strongest yet against hard-liners who are trying to preserve their power and, it is feared, will seek to prevent the gathering of Iran’s newly elected pro-reform parliament.

``The Iranian nation is revolutionary,″ Khatami told workers in Tehran, ``and nothing can halt its achievements, that is to say, reforms.″

Backed by the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hard-liners have used their dominance of the judiciary to close 16 reformist newspapers and detain two leading journalists in the past two weeks. Their actions are widely seen as an attempt to reverse an easing of Islamic limitations on political and social life that has occurred since Khatami took office in 1997.

But even as the president signaled to supporters that he would not back down, he and other top reformist leaders urged their backers not to take to the streets in protest, for fear of giving the hard-line Islamic clergy a pretext for a harsher crackdown.

``There are desires to foment tension in society and create a violent atmosphere, but I kindly ask the people, especially university students and workers who may be the target of provocations, to keep calm,″ Khatami said.

Students at two universities heeded the president’s words and staged quiet demonstrations on their campuses on Saturday.

At Gilan University in northwest Iran more than 200 students protested the closures of the newspapers but with their mouths taped, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. ``Our statement is our silence,″ several students told the agency.

At Razi University in western Iran, students gathered to discuss the newspaper bans and closed their meeting after reading out a statement, Chancellor Morteza Mamouei told the agency.

An umbrella organization of reform groups, the Second of Khordad Movement, backed the president Saturday in calling for restraint.

Hard-liners were ``trying to provoke a crisis and riots in order to justify a harsh crackdown ... and then exploit the situation in (their) favor,″ it said in a statement reported by the official Islamic Republic News Agency on Saturday. The movement takes its name from the day in the Iranian calendar, Khordad 2 _ or May 23 _ that Khatami was elected.

The largest group of pro-reform students, the Office for Fostering Unity, also appealed for calm, saying it would not condone any violent reaction.

Khatami’s efforts to push through reforms got a boost in the February legislative elections in which conservatives lost control of parliament for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Pro-Khatami candidates won some 70 percent of the seats announced for the 290-member parliament.

A run-off election will be held on May 5 to decide 66 seats where no candidate passed the required threshold. Campaigning for the vote began last week.

Reformers fear that the hard-liners are trying to instigate violence to justify declaring a state of emergency that would delay the opening of the new parliament on May 27.

The electoral authority, which is controlled by hard-liners, annulled the results in 12 seats won by reformers and said there might be changes in Tehran, where reformers won 29 of the 30 seats.

Also on Saturday, the courts summoned two women activists who had taken part in a Berlin conference on Iran earlier this month and ordered their arrest, a relative told The Associated Press.

Siamak Zand said his wife, Mehrangis Karr, called him this afternoon to say she had been detained with another conference participant, Shahla Lahiji. Lahiji and Karr are well-known activists for women’s and civil rights.

The conference provoked an outcry in conservative circles after state television screened clips showing female delegates dancing and Iranian exiles criticizing the government. Women are not allowed to dance in Iran.

A hard-line newspaper, the weekly Jebhe, was closed down Saturday for ``violations of the press law,″ state television reported. It did not elaborate. The move appeared to be the hard-liners’ way of deflecting criticism that they were closing only reformist publications.

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