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Iran Daneshjoo Organization News Service

"Iran Daneshjoo Organization News Service"

News Edition of Wednesday April 26, 2000 (Our silence will break ..)

- http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org

Azadi e Andishe, Hamishe...! Hamishe...! Freedom of Thought, For Ever...! For Ever...!

Welcome to this edition of the News provided by the "Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran".

There are 19 articles in this news edition:

1) AFP: Students pursue protests as press court continues campaign 2) SMCCDI: SADF (Iran): Our silence will break 3) Reuters: Students across Iran protest press bans 4) NY Times (US): Iranian Students Protest Crackdown on Newspapers 5) Sobh E Emrooz (Iran): No Normal Treatment for Ganji in Prison 6) AP: Supreme leader in Iran endorses media crackdown 7) Iran News (Iran): IRIB's Role in Newspaper Closures 8) AFP: German government "following situation in Iran closely" 9) AP: Iranian hard-liners annul another election won by a moderate 10) Reuters: Reformers say Iran's hardliners plan revolt 11) IRAN (Iran): Please Keep Your Calm 12) BBC: How far will Iran's conservatives go? 13) NY Times (US): Trial of Jews: Clue to Iran's Direction? 14) IPS: Hajjarian's alleged killers go on trial amid controversy 15) AFP: Iranian pro-reform cleric rejects charges against him 16) IPS: Defiant Yusefi Eshkevari says Clergymen's court is illegal 17) AFP: Saudi rules out any defence accord with Iran 18) Reuters: Iran rial weaker but stocks shrug off political row 19) Financial Times (UK): Iran puts its pride and joy on the road

A) More news: http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/news 1- Financial Times (UK): Tehran students protest at closure of reformist media 2- AFP: Iranian Jews trial to reopen May 1 3- Reuters: Iran Press Court Warns President's Brother 4- Tehran Times (Iran): Salimi on Democracy, Cultural Ministry's Treatment of Print Media 5- AFP: Khamenei proclaims full backing for Khatami 6- Par Daily (US): Saeed Asgar Is A Happy Terrorist! 7- Reuters: Iran to hold parliamentary run-offs May 5 - radio 8- Tehran Times (Iran): Guardian Council Confirms 185 Mps-Elect For Parliament 9- AFP: Iran sets May 5 as date for second round of elections 10- Tehran Times (Iran): IRIB Supervisory Board to Respond to Khatami 11- Reuters: Russia criticises Washington over Iran sanctions 12- AFP: Plane crash kills two: radio 13- Reuters: ANALYSIS-Watershed time for Caspian oil and gas 14- Reuters: U.S. critic pays tribute to 'overlooked' films 15- Reuters: Four immigrant men charged with Sweden disco arson 16- AFP: Haider blasts "decadent" EU's welcome for Putin

B) Urgent Actions: http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/urgentaction/

1- Closing of Reformist Publications, Detention of Journalists, Annulment of People’s Parliamentary Vote 2- The World Must Support the Democracy Movement in Iran

C) German articles: http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/articles/german.shtml 1- FR: Studenten protestieren gegen Zeitungsverbote 2- TAZ: Haftbefehl für Reformer 3- NZZ: Maulkorb für Khatamis Reformpresse in Iran

D) Swedish articles: http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/articles/swedish.shtml

1- TT-AFP: Andra omgången i Irans parlamentsval 5 maj

E) French articles: http://www.iran-daneshjoo.org/articles/french.shtml 1- Liberation: Les étudiants dans la rue en Iran

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Students pursue protests as press court continues campaign

TEHRAN, April 26 (AFP) - Iranian students pursued peaceful protests Wednesday against a ban on most of the pro-reform press as the conservative courts continued their campaign with a formal warning to President Mohammad Khatami's brother, head of one of the few dailies to be spared so far.

Meanwhile the foreign ministry hit out at foreign criticism of the crackdown, calling it interference in Iran's internal affairs.

Several hundred students gathered at the technical faculty of Tehran University to show their concern at the suspension by the press court of nine dailies and four periodicals which support Khatami.

They made no speeches and shouted no slogans but held a silent prayer session.

Another rally was announced for later in the day at Tehran University, where the first protests were staged early Tuesday.

Similar peaceful demonstrations were reportedly held in the holy city of Mashhad in the east of the country, at the Ferdossi University and the medical school.

Police have stayed away from the meetings and there have been no confrontations, unlike last July, when violent police intervention against a student protest at the closure of the pro-reform daily Salam sparked off serious public unrest.

The demonstrations had no effect on the press court, whose redoubtable judge Said Mortazavi stepped up the pressure by issuing a formal warning to Mohammad-Reza Khatami as director of the daily Mosharekat.

In a letter to Khatami, quoted by the radio, Mortazavi said that the daily had changed format without official authorization.

"In its editions Monday and Tuesday, Mosharekat made substantial changes in its layout, content and headlines," the judge was quoted as saying.

"Should this court warning be ignored, the appropriate decisions will be taken regarding the coming editions," the judge said.

Mosharekat, which has a circulation of 150,000, is the organ of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) of left-leaning reformers which was the big winner in the first round of parliamentary elections on February 18.

Mohammad-Reza Khatami himself won 62 percent of the votes in Tehran, the best showing for a candidate in the capital, according to unofficial results announced by the interior ministry.

Analysts said a ban on the IIPF's newspaper would inflame the conflict between conservatives and reformists that has grown since the February polls.

Reformists led by the president have appealed for calm as conservatives have stoked the fires, hoping to avoiud trouble until the new parliament sits.

On Wednesday their 2nd of Khordad Front, of which the IIPF is the main component, urged "young people and especially students to restraing themselves in the face of provocations whose sole aim is to create social tension."

Also Wednesday the interior ministry finally announced that the second round of the elections would take place on May 5. The conservative elections body, the Council of Guardians, had been refusing to approve a date on what was seen as another tactic to rattle the reformists.

In another development, foreign ministry spokesman Hamdi-Reza Asefi played down the crackdown on the press and rejected foreign criticism, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"Freedom of expression and the press are the fundamental rights of Iranian citizens and are assured by the constitution. The existence of different tendencies in Iran prove the success of the Islamic republic in building a pluralist and democratic society," he said.

"We expect foreign countries to speak realistically and attentively about Iran, and refrain from interfering in our internal affairs."

France and the United States, as well as various human rights and press freedom bodies, have criticised the measures against the press.

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Our silence will break

SMCCDI News Service April 26, 2000

The Student Association for Defense of Freedom, based in Tehran, warned the Islamic republic of breaking its silence and calm.

Part of the statement says: " If we kept our silence and calm in the Serial murders case, in the attack of our Dorms and peacefull protest, in the imprisonment of our friends...

We will keep our calm in the present condition but we warn about the moment that the silence will break.."

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Students across Iran protest press bans

TEHRAN (Reuters) Apr. 26 - Students in five cities across Iran, from southern Hormuzgan province to Hamedan in the west, held protests against the closure of 13 pro-reform publications, the official IRNA news agency reported. The protests, like similar gatherings in the capital Tehran, all passed off without incident, IRNA said. "Should the ban on the dailies continue, gossip-mongering and underground publications will appear," a university lecturer told students in Bandar Abbas, the administrative centre of Hormuzgan province and Iran's biggest port.

Students at the rallies on Tuesday chanted slogans backing freedom of the press and denounced the state broadcast service, which is controlled by hardliners, for what they said was political bias.

In the central town of Kashan, protesters criticised the out-going parliament's recent move to tighten further existing press restrictions.

Iran's hardline judiciary banned without trial nine dailies and four journals for having "disparaged Islam and the religious elements of the Islamic revolution."

The move, which aimed at the heart of the reform programme under moderate President Mohammad Khatami, has so far failed to elicit the impassioned response that greeted the sudden closure last July of the reformist daily Salam.

Then,a pro-democracy rally was set upon by the security forces and hardline vigilantes, touching off the worst unrest since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Reformist forces, mindful of last summer's violence, have appealed repeatedly for calm.

Besides protests in Hamedan, Bandar Abbas, Kashan and Tehran, thousands of students rallied for press freedom in the central city of Yazd and in Shiraz, in the south.

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Iranian Students Protest Crackdown on Newspapers

The New York Times By SUSAN SACHS

April 26, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran, April 25 -- With the reformers they supported under siege by conservative judges and clerics, students at two Tehran universities held peaceful demonstrations today to denounce the widening crackdown on the nation's independent press.

As the students protested, a judge in the capital closed another liberal newspaper -- the 13th to fall silent on orders from hard-line judges in just two days. And another court issued an arrest warrant for a popular moderate cleric who was accused of insulting Islam because he attended a recent conference in Berlin on democracy.

Several reform-minded clerics are already in prison, convicted on similar charges, based on their open questioning of the Iranian religious establishment's political power.

With unease mounting here in the capital, the student rallies were watched with trepidation by reform leaders. They have repeatedly warned their supporters to avoid any disturbance that could bring even harsher retaliation from conservatives or delay the opening of a new reform-dominated Parliament next month.

The warnings appear to have been heeded, so far. But students at the Khajeh Naseer Technical University in the capital found a way to express themselves. "The people's silence," read one of their banners today, "is not a sign of their consent."

President Mohammad Khatami, whose pledges of wider political freedoms inspired the reform movement and an explosion of feisty newspapers, has also remained silent in the face of the recent assault on liberal newspapers, editors and clerics.

He has defended the notion of a free press in recent speeches but has not commented publicly on the closure of nearly every national newspaper that supports him.

The reform forces have been locked in a perilous war of nerves with their hard-line opponents for two months, since pro-Khatami candidates won a decisive majority in the first round of parliamentary elections on Feb. 18.

The reformist tide swept nearly every conservative incumbent out of office.

But since the first round, reformers have suffered a series of blows.

First, one of the president's closest allies, Saeed Hajjarian, was gunned down on a Tehran street, barely surviving a bullet fired into his face. The trial of eight men accused of the assassination attempt opened today in a Tehran court.

Although many of the reform newspapers speculated that the shooting was the work of anti-Khatami extremists in the security forces, one defendant told the court today that he fired the shot but did not act on behalf of any group.

The newspaper run by Mr. Hajjarian, which has the largest daily circulation in the country and is a constant irritant to the hard-liners, was ordered last night to shut down, although the order was rescinded.

The Khatami forces' preliminary election victory also has been chipped away by the ultra-conservative Council of Guardians, which has annulled the results of 11 provincial races won by pro-Khatami candidates, the latest one today.

What worries the reformers more than the voided races is the council's delay in certifying the election results and scheduling a final round of voting. The runoff will decide about 80 seats for which no candidate received 25 percent of the vote outright in the first round or for which the results have been nullified. Time is growing short: the new Parliament, which presumably will give Mr. Khatami his first working majority since his election in 1997, is supposed to begin work on May 28.

"What's important for us is the date," said Shahidi Shaban, the deputy minister for press in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and a Khatami ally. "It must be respected."

He said that under the law, the Parliament can open with two-thirds of its 290 members, a possibility that would require certification of all the seats decided in Tehran in the first round of elections.

But the conservative council is still recounting ballots in Tehran, where reformers won 29 out of 30 seats outright in the first round. The council secretary, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, predicted today that the recount would lead to "different results," according to a report from the official Iranian news agency IRNA.

So far, Mr. Khatami has been able to maneuver between the expectations of his supporters and the barely hidden hostility of the conservatives, who risk losing their grip on judicial and political power under a reformist program.

In Iran's system of government, which divides authority between competing institutions that answer to different groups, the president holds relatively few cards. He appoints the ministers, who must be approved by Parliament. But the military, security and courts are in the hands of a Muslim cleric who is called the supreme leader.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current leader, is widely considered a conservative but also a practical politician who recognizes Mr. Khatami's popularity.

Because he is the ultimate authority over the judiciary, though, many people have wondered what role he played in the recent ban on reformist newspapers and trials of reformist writers.

"Nothing is really clear," said one Western diplomat based in Tehran. "We are in a game that is going faster and faster. We all are waiting for the next play."

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No Normal Treatment for Ganji in Prison

Sobh E Emrooz April 26, 2000

Akbar Ganji has been arraigned in jail pending a massive bail.

In a meeting with his espouse across a screen, he said that his guards did not provide him with newspapers and books.

He has been also been refused paper and pencil.

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Supreme leader in Iran endorses media crackdown

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Apr. 26 - Iran's supreme leader on Wednesday endorsed the recent crackdown on reformist newspapers, describing the publications as "deviant" and urging his supporters not to remain silent. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei condemned what he called "a deviant media movement that is trying to shape public opinion and turn it against Islam, the revolution and the Islamic Republic."

Khamenei's comments came as local media reported that a court dominated by hard-liners had sent a warning to the brother of reformist President Mohammad Khatami to rein in his liberal newspaper, Mosharekat, or face sanction.

Press Court Judge Saeed Mortazavi wrote Tuesday to Mohammad-Reza Khatami, objecting to his newspaper's publishing several editions a day. He said it amounted to Mosharekat's putting out several other newspapers under its name.

"If this legal court notice is ignored in the next editions, appropriate decisions will be taken against your newspaper," Mortazavi said in his letter, the daily Kayhan reported.

Khatami is a close ally of his elder brother, the president, and his newspaper is one of only three reformist papers to survive the recent closures, which follow nationwide elections two months ago that ousted hard-liners from their long-held majority in parliament.

Thirteen newspapers have been closed in recent days and two leading pro-reform journalists have been detained, as hard-liners seek to hold back the popular movement toward more democracy and openness.

Khamenei, the country's supreme leader and a champion of hard-liners, said reformers were undermining the principles of the 1979 revolution and the teachings of the imam, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

"All persons, groups, and factions loyal to Islam must come out and take strong positions against those ... who are attacking the revolution, the path of the imam, the constitution and the role of the supreme leader," Khamenei told a meeting of religious authorities.

"Revolutionaries must not remain silent against these truths," he added in what appeared to be a green light for further measures.

Reformist allies of Khatami have appealed to supporters, including university students, not to take to the streets.

"The hard-liners are trying to create a crisis to use that as a pretext for an even larger crackdown," said Karim Arqandehpour, a senior editor at Mosharekat, and deputy chief of the reformist Press Guild.

"The people should remain calm, because the reforms are not in a life-or-death situation. They are now embedded in the hearts of the Iranian people, and cannot be choked," he told The Associated Press.

Students at Tehran's Amir Kabir Technical University stayed away from classes Wednesday for a second day. In the central city of Shiraz, all 17 universities were shut in support of the reformers.

The crackdown is aimed at rolling back the reforms initiated by President Khatami who, since coming to power in 1997, has loosened Iran's social, political and cultural restrictions.

Following their overwhelming defeat at the polls, the hard-liners have been hitting back through their control of the judiciary, the state broadcasting media and the Guardians Council, which supervises elections.

The council has annulled the results in 12 legislative seats won by Khatami allies, awarding two of them to hard-line candidates. It has also claimed vote fraud in Tehran, where reformers won 29 of the 30 seats, and suggested that the results could be changed.

On Wednesday, the council announced that run-off elections would be held May 5 for 66 seats that were not decided in the elections for the 290-member parliament.

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IRIB's Role in Newspaper Closures

Iran News Editorial

April 26, 2000

Following the recent abrupt wholesale closure of pro-reform newspapers, the people concluded that a pre-determined scenario was being acted out by the opponents of President Khatami's policies.

They believe that the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) played a major role in preparing the ground for these dubious closures by blowing out of all proportion the Berlin Conference where reform-minded Iranian journalists were invited earlier this month for a round table discussion.

IRIB then kept harping on what it called the un-Islamic and anti-revolutionary behavior of the participants, and then tried to take advantage of the atmosphere it had created to discredit the pro-reform newspapers.

One of the reasons, not necessarily the major one, for IRIB's enmity toward the newly established reform press is that by practicing a more genuine brand of journalism they had captured the majority of IRIB's audience who were tired of it's biased and boring programs, specially its news and political analyses.

The politically aware people of Iran have forsaken the national television and have opted for reform and independent newspapers as their main ource of information.

When the electorate, despite the efforts of IRIB, voted overwhelmingly in favor of the reformists in two major elections, IRIB, in its infinite wisdom, decided to enter the arena of the printed press thinking that it can influence public opinion by the written word instead of broadcast.

IRIB managers think that they can grab the audience of the press by participating in the campaign to shut down all pro-reform and independent newspapers. On the surface, this two-pronged IRIB strategy to become the only game in town seems to be working so far with the wholehearted support of President Khatami's opponents.

However, IRIB chiefs are under the wrong impression that if they clear the field of their competitors people will have no choice but to watch their programs regardless of their content. This will not happen,because the people of Iran have become highly politicized and know what they want. Limiting their sources of information will not force them to opt for the second best, which in this case is the absolute worst.

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German government "following situation in Iran closely"

BERLIN, April 26 (AFP) - The German government is "following with great attention" the situation in Iran, where there has been a crackdown on pro-reform newspapers, government deputy spokesperson Charima Reinhardt said Wednesday. "The government express the hope that the Iranian president (Mohammad Khatami) will find the right way for the continuation of reforms," she said in a statement.

"The German government ... considers the freedom to inform to be a reliable yardstick of the observation of human rights," the statement went on.

The statement said that, in line with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, the government "fundamentally rejects censorship, intimidation and repression of the media."

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Iranian hard-liners annul another election won by a moderate

By Afshin Valinejad

TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) Apr. 26 - Hard-liners have stepped up pressure on President Mohammad Khatami, annulling another election result in a legislative district won by a moderate Khatami ally.

Alarmed by the sound beating they took from reformists in February's legislative elections, Iranian hard-liners are trying to roll back Khatami's reforms. In addition to annulling election results in 12 districts where seats were won by Khatami allies, they have closed 13 pro-democracy publications and jailed two journalists in recent weeks.

The crackdown reflects the considerable power hard-liners in the ruling clergy still wield in Iran.

State-run radio said yesterday that Iran's Guardian Council had annulled the election of reformist Mohammad Farrokhi to represent the town of Jiroft in southern Kerman province. In addition, the radio quoted a statement from the hard-line council as saying that final results for Tehran, where the pro-Khatami Interior Ministry says the reformists won 29 of 30 seats, have been delayed.

After yesterday's statement was broadcast on radio, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of the Guardian Council, denied that there was any plan to annul results in Tehran, the capital. But the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Jannati as saying that "there are irregularities which may lead to minor changes."

Two of the 12 seats from the districts where reformists' victories have been annulled have been given to hard-liners. The others are to be contested in a new election.

At several universities around Iran, students demonstrated yesterday against the newspaper closures and in favor of Khatami.

In the southern city of Shiraz, more than 3,000 students rallied at the Medical Science University, journalists there said.

At the Khajeh Naseer Technical University in Tehran, more than 300 students cut classes and assembled outside the main building. Speakers addressed the demonstrators through loudspeakers.

"Stand firm, Khatami, stand firm, Khatami," the young men and women chanted as they sat under the morning sun.

On the green iron fence around the university in Tehran hung the last issues of the 13 publications that were shut down Sunday and Monday by order of Iran's hard-line judiciary. The newspapers had turned Khatami, who speaks of democracy and the rule of law, into a national hero. Only two reformist newspapers - Mosharekat and Bayan - escaped the ban. It was not clear why. The ban on a 14th newspaper, Sobh-e-Emrooz, was lifted late Monday, but the reason was unclear.

Since his election in 1997, Khatami has sought to loosen restrictions that have been in place since Islamic hard-liners seized power in Iran in the 1979 revolution. He has been opposed by conservative clerics.

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Reformers say Iran's hardliners plan revolt

By Jonathan Lyons TEHRAN, April 26 (Reuters) - Iran's reformers say they have learned of a "master plan" by hardliners in the security forces and their allies to crush the movement for change and even topple the government of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

They say some elements of the elite Revolutionary Guards, the police and the state broadcast monopoly have formed a "crisis committee" to fan social, political and religious tensions and pave the way for a possible coup d'etat.

"The Crisis Committee, or creating crises?" asked an editorial earlier this week in Sobh-e Emrouz, a reformist daily with good sources in the intelligence service.

The newspapers have not named the figures in question and the conservative newspaper Resalat on Wednesday dismissed such charges as fantasy. "Where is the Crisis Headquarters?" it asked in a front-page headline. "Why don't the gentlemen answer?"

Last week, a statement from the Guards denied a coup was in the works, saying "coup d'etat is a meaningless, alien and irrelevant word." But a leading reformist said he had been given notes from a tape made at a recent meeting of the committee, detailing a three-stage programme to weaken the reformers, halt their advance and then eliminate them.

A copy was made available to Reuters by the reformist figure, who asked not to be identified. "The revolution, Islam and the blood of the martyrs are endangered," the notes quote a senior Guards commander as saying.

"One option is to sit and watch, the other is create a strong executive headquarters. In the first phase, we weaken the other side. In the second, we stop them from advancing and in the third phase we remove them from the scene."

STEPS OUTLINED

Specific steps said to have been outlined at the meeting included:

-- Arrest and prosecution of leading reformers, who would be branded "foreign agents or spies".

-- Closing 18 reformist publications to interrupt the flow of information to the people.

-- Bullying intellectuals into remaining silent.

-- Convincing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of the dangers to the Islamic system posed by the reform movement.

-- Disruption of the Tehran bazaar and the religious seminaries to provoke senior clerics.

-- Deploying terror to force many Khatami supporters to "stay silent or pull aside".

According to the notes, the meeting concluded with a debate on the timing and wisdom of an anti-Khatami putsch.

When objections are raised that the majority of the army and the Revolutionary Guards supports the president, one commander counters that the "adventurous atmosphere" of a coup would win over the younger recruits.

"A coup d'etat on what pretext?" presses his interlocutor.

"The grounds could be that some of these (reformers) are foreign agents or spies," comes the reply.

In the 10 days since the meeting recorded in the transcript, the judiciary has banned 13 reformist publications. The ban followed a speech by Ayatollah Khamenei in which he said the reformist press had become "bases of the enemy".

Several reformist journalists have been detained for trial or sent to prison, while the Revolutionary Court has summoned for interrogation reformists who took part in a seminar in Berlin, which conservatives have branded counter-revolutionary.

INTERIOR MINISTER SOUNDS ALARM

A strike was called in the Tehran bazaar last Thursday and in the seminaries in the holy Shi'ite Moslem city of Qom on Monday to protest foreign meddling, and fresh graffiti around Tehran have accused the press of housing anti-Islamic elements.

Pro-reform newspapers and government officials first began warning of a "crisis committee" earlier this week, but there has been no confirmation that such a body is at work behind the scenes.

"Has this committee been created in coordination with security officials and the Supreme National Security Council, or does it intend to create crises instead of preventing them?" Fath daily on Monday quoted reformist Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari as saying.

"The sudden closure of...newspapers and publications must be seen in line with the acts of the crisis-creating committees," said Sobh-e Emrouz. "(Recent events) show the target of these crises is the reformist front and the pious forces supporting reform."

But the conservative Resalat said the reformers were unable to substantiate their claims. "The gentlemen who claim a crisis headquarters and power mafia exist do not say where this committee is and who its members are," it said.

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Please Keep Your Calm

IRAN April 26, 2000

Four banned dailies have issued a joint statement.

"The latest confrontation cannot freeze the deep reforms that are under way in our society," said the statement, adding that the people should remain calm in order to avoid violence

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How far will Iran's conservatives go?

BBC World By Jim Muir in Tehran

April 26, 2000

The recent developments in Iran - the banning of 13 newspapers and arrests of journalists - have all the hallmarks of a right-wing backlash in the wake of the reformists' sweeping general election victory.

There's no doubt that the conservatives were taken aback by the magnitude of their defeat in the February elections.

Now the signs are that they have regrouped for a counter-attack.

The question is how far they intend to try to go.

The events of the past week or two have left Iranian observers divided.

Some believe that what they are seeing is the more hardline right-wingers trying desperately to do as much damage as they can on their way out.

Others argue that the hardliners have no intention of giving up power and that the closure of many reformist publications is merely a prelude to a complete shutdown to cover an attempt to prevent the new parliament from being inaugurated at the end of May.

That period between the February elections and the May inauguration was always going to be a tense one.

But it's been made doubly so by unusual elements of uncertainty.

Delays

The conservative-dominated Council of Guardians, which supervises elections, has only just set a date for a long overdue second-round run off, and it has still not validated the results for Tehran's 30 seats.

All this has raised suspicions in reformist minds that the hardliners may be striving to deny them their election victory.

With political tension extremely high, there's been inevitable speculation about some sort of coup by hardline commanders of the Revolutionary Guards.

That's been ruled out by the guards themselves, taking their cue from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He has stated very clearly that nobody must step beyond the law.

It was his attack on the reformist press last week that appeared to set the scene for the latest crackdown.

But he also stood firmly beside the reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

Some Iranian analysts believe it's the leader himself who is restraining the real hardliners from making a serious attempt to oust the popular president and to crush the reformists, whatever the cost.

As for them, their tactic is to keep things as calm as possible, to avoid offering any kind of pretext for stopping them taking over parliament.

Until that day comes, the situation is likely to remain extremely tense.

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Trial of Jews: Clue to Iran's Direction?

The New York Times By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

April 26, 2000

The pending trial in Iran of 13 Jews on espionage charges is being monitored outside the country as a gauge of the evolving balance of power between the forces of tolerance and the Islamic revolution's more zealous adherents. Since the charges were brought in March 1999 against the Jewish men, as well as eight unidentified Muslims, the case has generated questions from a broad range of governments and organizations. Top officials in Western Europe, Japan, the United Nations, the Arab world and particularly Russia have openly expressed qualms about what the outcome of the trial might be.

The extensive lobbying by Russia was especially curious, because Jews suffered discrimination in the Soviet era, with those applying to emigrate usually denied permission and often losing their jobs.

The Russian foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, inquired about the trial during a visit to Iran in November, said an official at the Iran desk at the ministry. "He talked to the leaders of the Iranian government." the official said, "and told them that although we recognize that this is their internal affair, we hoped that this trial would be conducted in a fair and transparent manner."

Artur Chilingarov, a deputy speaker of the Russian Parliament, made a similar appeal last year during a meeting with the Iranian ambassador to Moscow, as did Vladimir Gusinsky, an influential Russian tycoon who is also president of the Russian Jewish Congress.

Other government officials also made inquiries, with Russian officials saying they had been asked to intervene by the United States and Israel. In Washington, State Department officials said the issue of the Iranian Jews had come up in discussions with their Russian counterparts on a host of unrelated issues, like the conflict in Kosovo.

One senior State Department official said Russian participation on this case could be traced to a number of factors. Russia has long sought a larger role in Middle East peace talks, and Russian Jewish groups are becoming more vocal.

Russia has hardly been alone. The governments of Canada, Britain, France, Holland, Germany and Japan, among others, have all said they were disturbed by the arrests, often in the kind of terse language that diplomats avoid. The French prime minister, Lionel Jospin, declared the charges "totally fabricated," while Canada has emphasized that maintaining good relations depends on a fair resolution of the case.

Although the United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, the Clinton administration has made its thoughts known.

"We look to the procedures and the results of this trial as one of the barometers of U.S.-Iran relations," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in a speech in March marking the lifting of Washington's two-decade ban on Iranian carpets and food products. The step was taken to ease the longstanding tension between the two nations.

A stream of contradictory statements about the defendants from various branches of the Iranian government has heightened interest in the case as a means of assessing what is going on inside the country.

In the last year, hard-line Shiite Muslim clerics have echoed the statement of Ayatollah Muhammad Yazdi, who said the detainees should be "sentenced to death -- not once but several times."

On the other hand, Hossein Sadeqi, the new spokesman for Iran's judiciary, said last month, "We hope and desire that none of them is convicted, and hope that they are all innocent and will be acquitted."

Foreign governments and human rights organizations, among others, expect the outcome of the trial to give some indication of whether the hard-line elements in the government can still thwart attempts by moderate elements to develop more neighborly international ties.

The question of which side can exert more influence was sharpened by the results of parliamentary elections in February, when moderates trounced the hard-liners.

"There is a fear that the internal struggles within Iran are being played out in this case," said Hanny Megally, the executive director of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa. "If there is going to be a trial, how that process goes -- whether it is fair and open and public -- will be a strong indication of how far Iran has come."

The question remains what effect, if any, the international outcry has had on the trial. Some officials say they believe that the questions from foreign governments have served to mitigate the charges against the Jews, making it unlikely that they will face capital punishment.

Others say too much attention has been focused on the case, potentially contributing to Iranian suspicions that some among the country's 35,000 Jews have ties to outside powers. Diplomats and human rights officials noted that other protests against religious prosecution in Iran, notably against the Bahai minority, had been carried out much more quietly.

"It is extremely hard to measure what impact foreign comments on something like this trial have actually had in practice," said Maurice Copithorne, a Canadian jurist who serves as the United Nations human rights investigator for Iran although he has not been allowed to enter the country.

On April 13 an Iranian judge in the city of Shiraz postponed the trial of the 13 until May 1, to give defense attorneys more time to prepare and out of deference to the Passover holiday, said Hossein Ali Amiri, the chief of the judiciary in Fars Province.

Three of the defendants were released on bail in February. The rest remain in prison. The accused Jews -- most are merchants or schoolteachers, with the youngest of them a 17-year-old student -- are charged with spying for Israel, but no evidence against them has been made public. Some may have had contact with relatives or the exile community there, but Israel has denied any connection with the men.

Iran has said religion has no bearing on the case, noting that some Muslims were arrested at the same time as the Jews more than a year ago. But the Muslims have never been identified, with diplomats and human rights officials expressing doubt they exist.

Foreign governments, Jewish groups and human rights organizations have all been pressing the government of Iran to allow their representatives to attend the trial, to be held in the normally closed revolutionary court. They all believe that this is the only way any evidence will be known. So far there has been little indication that this will be allowed.

"There is a widespread perception that these are unlikely spies to begin with, so the basis of the allegations is considered suspect by many observers," said Mr. Copithorne.

=====================================================================

Hajjarian's alleged killers go on trial amid controversy

TEHRAN 25TH Apr. (IPS) The first session of the hasty arranged trial at the Islamic Revolution Court of the men alleged to be involved in the assassination attempt against Mr. Sa'id Hajjarian, the vice Chairman of the Tehran City Council (TCC) and a close friend and adviser to President Mohammad Khatami started without the participation of the victim's family.

Mr. Hajjarian was shot at close distance on 12th March as he was entering the TCC and seriously wounded. Taken to hospital, he is still under treatment.

According to the pro-government official news agency IRNA, eight people, among them;

++ 20 years-old Sa'id Asgar, a student of chemical engineering at Islamic Azad (Free) University, said to be the one who shot Mr. Hajjarian;

++ Mohsen (Morteza) Majidi, 30, driver of the powerful motorcycle used by the assailant, a high school student and doing his military service who became a non-commissioned officer of the Revolutionary Guards operating a shop selling spare parts and repairing powerful motorcycles that are used only by security services and patrols;

++ Mohammad Ali Moqaddam, 22, accomplice, finished guidance school; implicated by other suspects as the one who provided the group with information as to the time of Mr. Hajjarian's arrival to his office at the TCC and the one who stopped the Publisher of the outspoken reformist daily Sobhe Emrouz by handing him a letter, thus providing the assailant the opportunity to shoot at Mr. Hajjarian;

++ Mehdi Rowqani, 23, an accomplice;

++ Mousa Jan-Nesari, 23, a staff member and a student at Tehran University;

++ Safar Maqsoudi, 28, with record of involvement in illicit dealings, murder, theft and armed robbery, the one who the revolver used in the failed assassination;

++ Alipour-Chalu'i, 24, a Kung Fu coach at a sports club used by the Guards, expelled from high school for misconduct and

++ Sa'id Gagonani, 19, a high school graduate.

Eyewitnesses at the trial told Iran Press service that Mr. Asgar confessed to shooting at Mr. Hajjarian as well as to two other cases of murders, saying he was obeying to religious order provided by a cleric.

Despite Mr. Asgar's confessions, sources, including Mr. Hajjarian's family and friends have expressed doubts, as his father, in a letter to the authorities, has indicated that his son was at home at the time of failed assassination.

Reformists immediately speculated that the aim of the conservatives for attempting at the life of Mr. Hajjarian, considered as the "architect" behind the victory of Mr. Khatami in the May 1997 presidential elections and the February parliamentary race was to create a situation giving them the possibility of proclaiming emergency state and shutting all institutions, including the Majles.

But the hard liners counter-charged by claiming that the assassination plot was the work of people and groups close to the president, naming Mr. Hakimikpour, a TCC member who took Mr. Hajjarian to hospital.

The trial started amid bitter controversy, as Mr. Hajjarian had asked the authorities to postpone the trial until he is fit to attend, but the Islamic Kjudiciary that is controlled directly by the leader ignored his plea.

Sources say one reason behind the leader-controlled Judiciary to ignore Mr. Hajjarian's demand is that the conservatives are keen to wrap the case while the political atmosphere is filled with tension created following the closure of 14 pro-reform publications, the arrest of three prominent journalists, the outcry orchestrated by the leader-controlled Television over the Berlin Conference and the confusion surrounding the inauguration of the next reformists-controlled Majles as a result of the leader-controlled Council of Guardians annulling election results in several districts, including Tehran, where all the 30 seats except one were swept by pro-Khatami candidates.

>From the outset, the failed assassination attempt became a subject of controversy and couter-accusation between the reformist camp and the conservatives led by Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i.

According to evidences brought by journalists, the murderers, most of them forming a gang, would operate for the Intelligence Department of the Revolutionary Guards.

That was the reason that from the outset, and like the case of the murder by high ranking officials from the Intelligence Ministry of five nationalist intellectual and politician dissident in November 1998, Mr. Khameneh'i accused "foreign hands and their local agents".

But since the Guards who, unexpectedly and surprisingly, had rounded up the killers refused to hand them over to the Intelligence Ministry, it became clear that they had called on the leader to save them from the same mess and shame and humiliation that afflicted the Intelligence Ministry after it confessed to the involvement of its senior members in the "chain murders".

That was done after Mr. Khameneh'i ordered the newspapers not to write anything about the Hajjarian case that do not come from official sources.

In several speeches afterward, including the last he made to the Basij, he accused the independent press of accusing the Guards "without having any proof or document".

That address served as a basis for the Judiciary to order the closure of all but a few reform seeking publications. =====================================================================

Iranian pro-reform cleric rejects charges against him

PARIS, April 25 (AFP) - Iranian pro-reform cleric Hassan Yussefi Eshkevari rejected Tuesday charges brought against him by hardline Tehran clerics and described the accusations as "strange and incredible".

Iran's Special Court for Clergy issued an arrest warrant against Eshkevari for having attended a controversial seminar in Berlin on April 7 and 8, the official Iranian news agency IRNA reported earlier Tuesday.

The court's prosecutor, Mohammad-Ibrahim Nekunam, confirmed Tuesday the charges against Eshkevari include spreading propaganda against the regime, insulting Islamic values and acting against national security interests.

The charges carry a minimum of 10 years in prison if proven.

"As usual, these are very general and ambiguous accusations which lend themselves to every abuse and interpretation," Eshkevari said in an interview with Radio France International's Persian service.

Eshkevari, who is on a private visit to Paris, said he has not decided when he will return to Iran.

He is also charged with conduct unbecoming a cleric, two days after writing a letter accusing state television of trying to damage pro-reformist President Mohammad Khatami by broadcasting pictures from the seminar.

The conference, where members of the armed opposition People's Mujahadeen put in an appearance and a woman danced with bare arms, has outraged conservatives.

"We suffered attacks during the conference because we defended the system and now, here we are, confronted by these accusations," said Eshkevari.

"The idea that someone could threaten the security of a country by speaking before a conference seems to me strange and incredible," said Eshkevari.

"I am not questioning religion by saying that wearing the chador or Islamic dress should not be compulsory and should be a deliberate choice by Iranian women," said Eshkevari, referring to comments he made in Berlin.

"To question Islamic dress does not mean rejecting the fundamental principles of the religion," he added.

President Khatami said Saturday that he was "totally opposed" to the manner in which pictures of the Berlin conference had been broadcast on Iranian TV.

"What happened in Berlin is also not acceptable," Khatami then added.

Iran's main reform party described the showing of selected extracts from the conference as "provocative" and accused the conservative television management of intent "to sow discord among the political forces" of Iran and "damage national unity and security."

Iran's hardline revolutionary court has summoned several people to appear over the conference.

=====================================================================

Defiant Yusefi Eshkevari says Clergymen's court is illegal

PARIS 25TH APR. (IPS) Hojatoleslam Hasan Yusefi-Eshkevari, a prominent Islamist reformer rejected Tuesday charges filed against him by the controversial Clergymen's Special Tribunal (CST) reiterating that since he considers this body as unconstitutional, therefore its rulings are also illegal.

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ebrahim Nekoonam, the leader-appointed Prosecutor General of the CST told the official Iranian news agency IRNA that Mr. Yusefi-Eshkevari was charged with "action against national security, propaganda against the system, insult to and rejection of the absolute sanctities of Islam, and behaviour not befitting the clergy" and would be arrested upon his return to Iran.

In interviews with Persian services of BBC and Radio France Internationale (RFI), Mr. Yusefi-Eshkevari who is presently in Paris said charges as action against national security or propaganda against the system or even insult against Islam are very general, vague and broad-based that one can not logically answer them.

"Such accusations are not new, but anyhow, since the CST is not legal in the one hand and the charges (brought against him) are of political nature, they should therefore be addressed in legal and competent courts but not this one", he observed.

Mr. Yusefi-Eshkevari was the only cleric who alongside 16 other Iranian pro-Khatami personalities attended the now famous Berlin Conference on the "Aftermath of Parliamentary Elections", a venue that served as a pretext for hard liners to organise the mass closure of reformist and moderate publications.

In a move unprecedented in the 160 years history of the Iranian press, the Islamic Judiciary, acting on instructions from Ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, ordered Monday the closing of Asre Azadegan, Akhbare Eqtesadi, Fath, Gozaresh Rouz, Bamdad No, Aftab Emrouz, Arya, Azad, Iran Farda, Payam Azadi, Aban, Payam Hajar and Arzesh, most of them if not all representing the religious-nationalist movement.

Ever since their historic defeat at the last February polls, the conservatives were sparing no efforts in attacking the reformist press they justly consider as the main instrument of the pro-reforms candidates who swept of the next Majles seats.

Observers noted that after the Islamic Guidance Minister Ata'ollah Mohajerani ignored "diplomatically" the leader's desire to see the independent press, particularly the most outspoken among them, muzzled, if not closed, Mr. Khameneh'i had "no choice but to express his intentions publicly and charge the Judiciary to do the job", as he did in his last address to the Basijis, or the volunteers, qualifying these publications as "the internal base" for the enemy's propaganda machine against Islam and the failed Islamic revolution.

They also observed that the new offensive against both President Mohammad Khatami and the reformists took a new dimension after the vertiginous fall of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the elections.

"As a result of this historic defeat, Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani openly sided with the conservatives and injecting new blood in their the campaign against the reformist camp, he also devised plans and directed the orchestra from behind the scene, letting the role of prima dona to Khameneh'i", one journalist analysed, asking for anonymity.

Referring to the screening of parts of the Berlin Conference by the leader-controlled Television, Mr. Yusefi-Eshkevari wondered how people speaking in an open forum could have acted against the interests and stability of the system?

"In order for the people to understand what really happened there, in order for the public to realise that not only what the participants said was nothing more than what they had expressed in Iran, not only they did nothing amounting to activity against the security of the regime, but also the courage with which they defended the government and reforms initiated by President Khatami amid demonstration and protest staged by Iranians opposed to the Islamic Republic", he pointed out.

He said he ignores was it is taking place behind the scene, but there is no doubt the final aim is to stop the democratisation and reforms process by cancelling the last Majles election.

"This is another wave and like others, it will end to vanish on its own", Mr. Ysefi-Eshkevari added, confirming that he would go back to Iran after he finishes the series of conferences and meetings he is scheduled to attend in several European cities and undergoing medical check up for the chronic diabetes he suffers from.

The outrageous footage, the leader-controlled Council of Guardians changing the results of the elections in some voting districts in favour of the conservatives, the closure of independent newspapers and other pro-reform publications and the jailing of three prominent journalists were strongly condemned by Grand Ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri as well as several Iranian and foreign human rights organisations and governments, including France, the United States, Germany and Sweden.

The Iranian Islamic Human Rights Organisation, the pro-Khatami Association of Combatant Clergymen, the New-York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, the Guild of Iranian Journalists and the Islamic Association of Students were among groups the anti-reform moves by the conservatives.

In a written answer to questions addressed to him by the Persian service of RFI, Ayatollah Montazeri said all these moves were against the fundamental laws and spirit of the Islamic Republic and would boomerang against those who initiates and carry it.

Because of open critics against the lavish, "kingly" lifestyle of Mr. Khameneh'i and his constant meddling in the daily affairs of the government, Mr. Montazeri has been placed in house arrest.

"Short of being able to murder Ganji, Shams, Latif Safari and other journalists and intellectuals fighting for democracy in Iran as they did with Dariush and Parvaneh Foruhar and other intellectuals and writers, and failing in assassinating Sa'id Hajjarian, the conservatives are now shutting their voices", said the Paris-based League for the Defence of Human Rights (LDHRI) in Iran.

In a communiqué received by IPS in London, Dr Karim Lahiji, the President of the LDHRI expressed his concern over the situation in Iran as a result of the closure of reformist publications and imprisonment of three journalists and called on the world's public opinion and international organisation to "rush" to defend the freedom movement of the Iranian people".

=====================================================================

Saudi rules out any defence accord with Iran

RIYADH, April 26 (AFP) - Saudi Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz on Wednesday ruled out signing any kind of defence agreement with Iran. "Any direct cooperation with Iran to guarantee the protection of the Gulf is quite inadmissible," Prince Sultan told journalists after inaugurating in Riyadh a Franco-Saudi symposium on satellite technology.

But he added, "We cannot abandon Iran, this great neighbouring Muslim country," just one day after meeting his Iranian counterpart Ali Shamkhani, currently in the kingdom on a visit to examine Saudi-Iranian cooperation in security and defence.

In reaction to Iraqi charges that Riyadh and Tehran were forging a strategic alliance, Prince Sultan ruled out any new "regional axis" while saying Iraq was not raised in his talks with Shamkhani.

Rear-Admiral Shamkhani, who was accompanied by a high-level military delegation, said on departure from Tehran to Riyadh that the aim was "to create a climate of confidence with Saudi Arabia, which will benefit the whole of the region".

Last week the Saudi government, ahead of Shamkhani's three-day visit, tasked Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz with negotiating a bilateral security accord with Iran.

The accord will focus on the fight against drug trafficking, Prince Nayef said in Saudi newspapers on Monday, while diplomatic sources in Riyadh said it was to be signed when the interior minister visits Tehran in May.

=====================================================================

Iran rial weaker but stocks shrug off political row

TEHRAN, April 26 (Reuters) - Iran's currency has lost ground on concerns about a political row after the closure of reformist newspapers but Iranian stocks made gains on institutional demand for shares, dealers and economists said on Wednesday. The rial, recently at an 11-month high, has lost more than two percent against the U.S. dollar in the past few days.

Dealers charged 8,650 rials for each dollar on an illegal but active black market, up from about 8,450 rials on Monday.

They said there was higher demand for hard currencies, bought by many ordinary Iranians as a hedge against inflation, after moves in recent days by the conservative-led judiciary to close down 13 reformist magazines and dailies. The decision has sparked student protests across Iran.

"The dollar has also gone up because (state) banks have not been offering enough hard currencies for sale," one trader said.

Iraj Jamshidi, editor of the pro-reform economic daily Abrar-e Eqtesadi, said: "The rial gained strength recently on hopes that the country was headed for peaceful change, now we see the opposite because of concerns about the political situation."

London-based Iranian money dealer Ali Pakpour said the rial fell to as low as 8,750 rials per dollar in Europe, where Iran's currency is often slightly weaker.

"This is all because of the political situation. People in Iran are worried about political problems and some buy foreign currencies as safety," Pakpour told Reuters in Dubai.

In early March, the rial had risen to an 11-month high of about 8,150 against the dollar on strong oil prices and optimism ahead of a move by the United States to lift its ban on imports of Iranian luxury goods.

Despite the political concerns, the Tehran Stock Exchange's all-share index firmed.

The index closed the week to Wednesday 19.04 points higher at 2,302.71 points, the official IRNA news agency reported. The index is up 15.7 percent this year, after gaining 30 percent in 1999.

"Most dealings were by institutional buyers after last week's index decline of more than six points. There is still optimism in the market despite the political problems," one broker, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

"Many believe revenue from strong oil prices will help government efforts to end the recession," the broker added.

=====================================================================

Iran puts its pride and joy on the road

The Financial Times By Guy Dinmore in Tehran

April 25 2000

It has been a long, hard road but the X7, the prototype of Iran's national car, co-designed with British expertise, stands gleaming on a factory floor near Tehran where three years ago grass grew.

Not exactly sleek, but roomy and with ample headroom, the family saloon has the appearance of a Vauxhall Vectra crossed with an Audi or a Rover. Powered by a 2000cc Peugeot engine and built under the motto "national vehicle, national pride", the car represents Iran's response to insatiable domestic demand and, perhaps one day, an export that will wean the country off its dependence on oil exports and establish it as a rival to Turkey as the biggest car producer in the Middle East.

Iran Khodro, Iran's main vehicle manufacturer which is in effect under state control but has private shareholders, hopes to start production next year. The design capability of the tooling is based on 200,000 units a year. Manoucher Gharavi, president of Iran Khodro, says a robotised production line is being built with South Korea's Hyundai, using Iranian software and electronics from Siemens. But the X7 was the brainchild of First Automotive, a private British vehicle-engineering company based in Coventry. An earlier concept of the car had been intended for Taiwan but the Taiwanese partner failed and First Auto approached Iran, Argentina and China. An agreement was signed with Iran Khodro in May 1995.

The design and tooling centre, built from scratch with First Auto's expertise and input from other foreign specialists, has state-of-the-art technology. The computer processors in a giant tooling machine were so powerful the sale had to be approved by the British cabinet because of a ban on the sale of technology with possible military applications.

Mike Ross, First Auto's representative in Iran, admits the project has not been plain sailing. "We've had our ups and downs," he says diplomatically. "But we are still partners."

The shape of the X7 - which will probably be called the Paykan 2000 - went through various stages, as seen in an earlier, more bulbous prototype with enhanced headroom. Mr Gharavi says the final version is of a completely Iranian design and a dozen cars are being tested in Britain.

First Auto says Iran with its population of 63m has "terrific market potential" and notes that the political climate with Britain has improved. Iran, it says, could compete with low-cost markets such as China.

But it warns: "This is not a get-rich-quick market," and frankly lists the many problems in doing business with Iran, such as an initial lack of trust between the two sides, over-expectations, confusion over the project's aims and a lack of understanding by Iran Khodro of the scale of the project and the costs of added value from its western partner. As First Auto also notes: "Time has a different dimension in Iran."

That Iran needs to develop its car industry is not in doubt. Market demand is estimated at 500,000 cars a year. Current production levels by the three main manufacturers is about half that. The most popular car in the country is the Paykan (Arrow), scion of the 1960s British Hillman Hunter - rugged and easily fixed but inefficient and grossly polluting.

But whether Iran needs a national car is debatable. The country appears to be following the path taken by Malaysia which developed the Proton but could only ensure its survival by imposing restrictive barriers to imports.

Iran Khodro already produces the Peugeot 405 under licence with the French carmaker and has recently reached agreement to start assembly of the Peugeot 206 next year. With more than 10,000 workers, the giant carmaker also makes the Peugeot RD - a Peugeot body with Paykan engine - and is soon to start production of the Peugeot Persia, a restyled 405 with petrol injection engine.

Workers at the Iran Khodro plant admit that quality control is a big concern for Peugeot.

Following the global trend, Iran is consolidating its car industry. Last month Saipa, the country's second-biggest carmaker, together with a state social security fund, bought 85 per cent of Pars Khodro, the third largest carmaker, for the equivalent of about $82m. Officials admitted the deal was more of a merger than a privatisation and said the government would retain management control.

Pars Khodro was previously owned by General Motors but was nationalised after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Industry sources said GM last year held talks with Pars Khodro, expressing an interest in returning to the Iranian market, if and when, the US lifts its economic sanctions.

Industry experts are not convinced that Iran has a clear strategy for its car sector, noting Saipa's recent agreement with Citroen to assemble the Xantia, the same family of car as the Peugeot 405 but too upmarket for the average Iranian earning less than $100 a month.

Despite the uncertainty, foreign carmakers are beating a trail to Iran. Fiat was recently in talks to buy a 20 per cent stake in Pars Khodro and is said by industry sources to be continuing talks with Saipa despite Fiat's new alliance with GM, which could conflict with US-imposed sanctions on investment in Iran.

Volkswagen was also in negotiations to produce a model of the Skoda with Pars Khodro but those talks appear to have broken down. First Auto summed up its thoughts after four years of dealing with Iran: "The potential market makes it worth taking a chance."

=====================================================================

Rooz Khosh..! Have a Nice Day..!

Don't forget that any protest against the Death sentences might save the Students...

They need your help.......

The SMCCDI News Service has been created in order to inform the World about the Student Movement and the struggle of the Iranian People to establish a Secular and Democratic Regime in Iran based on the choice of the Iranians in a Free Election under International Observation.

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