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Iran Students Challenge Khamenei

December 13, 1999

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ Thousands of student supporters of Iran’s moderate president rallied in the Iranian capital on Monday, and some made an challenge to the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The rally, attended by about 7,000 backers of President Mohammad Khatami, was called to show support for Abdollah Nouri. Last month, a hard-line court sentenced Nouri, a journalist and close ally of Khatami, to five years in prison.

``Freedom fighter Nouri should be released,″ the students shouted.

The scene at Tehran University was tense, and some demonstrators clashed with about 20 hard-liners who tried to interrupt the rally. Police kept them apart, and there were no reports of injuries.

In Iran, the supreme leader is considered above the law and his authority is unquestioned. At Monday’s rally, however, speakers suggested there may be limits.

``The leader’s authority is within the framework of the constitution,″ said Ali Afshari, a speaker at the protest organized by the Office for Fostering Unity.

And Afshari said: ``the existence of the Special Court of the Clergy is a violation of the constitution. It is illegal and it should be dissolved.″

A few weeks ago, Khamenei said the court, which tried, convicted and sentenced Nouri, was legal.

Afshari also accused hard-liners of ``hiding behind″ Khamenei following their attacks on the press.

Powerful hard-liners have shut down four pro-reform newspapers in the past year, including Nouri’s, as part of an effort to derail Khatami’s reforms. Several writers and intellectuals have been harassed, jailed or even killed.

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