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Paramilitary Force Plans Maneuvers

August 1, 1999

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ More than 50,000 paramilitary volunteers will demonstrate their skills in combating civil strife in Tehran, the Iranian capital where pro-democracy protests broke out last month.

The members of Basij force will stage three days of maneuvers in which helicopters and planes will drop paratroopers, the Hamshahri newspaper reported. The report was monitored in Dubai.

It quoted Basij chief, Brig. Gen. Rahim Safavi, as saying that the maneuvers starting Wednesday aim to ``strengthen the security of Tehran, to exercise the force’s combat readiness ... and to crush any planned conspiracies against the establishment by internal and foreign enemies.″

The Basij, a hard-line militia, was instrumental in ending the weeklong pro-democracy protests that erupted July 9 in Tehran and spread to several other Iranian cities.

At least three people were killed and 200 were injured in the violence _ the worst public unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the U.S.-backed shah and installed the rule of Muslim clerics. Hard-liners in the government blamed July’s violence on opposition groups in exile and on the United States.

Safavi was quoted as saying that the upcoming Basij maneuvers were ``not unrelated″ to the recent riots.

The Basij ``are the most important factor to maintain internal and external security in the country,″ he said.

Safavi said there were 5 million Basij forces in Iran, and that the number was expected to double within a couple of years.

Last month’s demonstrations in Tehran were seen as evidence that common Iranians were frustrated with the strict Islamic rule of the clergy, as well as with the tight leash the clergy has imposed on political and social reform programs being pushed by moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

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