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IRAN NEWS: Freedom of Thought, For Ever...!

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: Student protests grow at press closures
2) Reuters: Iranian Students Boycott Classes Over Press Ban
3) Ham Mihan (Iran): Artful and Crafty Defense in `University
Dormitory Case'
4) AP: Hard-line Iranian press court closes down three more papers
5) AFP: New ban on papers fuels Iran crisis
6) Boston Globe (US): Editorial: Censorship in Iran
7) Times (UK): Leading Article: Creeping Coup "Iran's clerical
zealots are trying to halt reform "
8) Christian Science Monitor (US): Iran's young 'rookie' lawmakers
9) Guardian (UK): Hardliners in elite force 'plotting coup against
Iranian president'
10) NY Times (US): Iran's Press, Now Silenced, Is Roasted by Top
Cleric
11) Reuters: ANALYSIS-Iran's reformers look past the press bans
12) AFP: Election campaign reopens in Iran as political confusion
persists
13) Reuters: Outspoken Iranian cleric doubts coup reports
14) Par Daily (US): Iran Frees Eight Accused of Serial Killings
15) Tehran Times (Iran): Judiciary Pursuing More Suspects in Serial
Murders
16) Javan (Iran): Trumped up Charges Against Rafsanjani by
Underground Groups
17) AFP: Iran frees eight accused of serial killings
18) Reuters: Iranians held in Norway for anti-Tehran paint demo
19) Reuters: Iran hits out at U.S. Caspian policy

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Student protests grow at press closures

TEHRAN, April 27 (AFP) - Students held their biggest protest yet late Wednesday at the closure of pro-reform newspapers by Iran's conservative press court, press reports said Thursday.

The daily Bayan, one of the few pro-reform dailies to escape suspension, said 5,000 students demonstrated peacefully at Ahvaz University in the south of the country in support of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Another 1,000 staged a similar rally at the University of Ilam in the west and decided to boycott classes, the official news agency IRNA said.

Sporadic gatherings have been held in faculties in Tehran and several provincial cities since the press court closed nine daily newspapers and four other periodicals at the beginning of this week because of their content.

In Ilam students condemned state-run television, which is also in the hands of the conservatives, for showing extracts from a recent seminar in Berlin attended by Khatami supporters, to the embarrassment of the reformists.

Speakers in Berlin criticised the Islamic regime, the banned and exiled opposition group the People's Mujahadeen put in an appearance and a woman danced with bare arms, taboo under Iran's strict religious code.

The students also protested against the failure to proclaim the definitive results of the first round of parliamentary elections in February in which reformists won a sweeping victory.

Campaigning began Thursday for the run-off second round, set for May 5, but the first round results for the all-important 30 seats for Tehran have yet to be announced, after three recounts.

Iranians were also digesting a speech by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei late Wednesday in which he again slammed the reformist press and the Berlin conference, but expressed his full support for Kahatami.

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Iranian Students Boycott Classes Over Press Ban

TEHRAN (Reuters) Apr. 27 - Thousands of Iranian students have boycotted classes in protest against the closure of pro-reform publications, newspapers reported on Thursday.

In addition to protests at nine university campuses in Tehran, thousands of students rallied for press freedom in the cities of Yazd, Hamadan, Arak, Mashhad and Ilam.

Students chanted slogans backing freedom of the press and denounced the state broadcast service, controlled by hard-liners appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for what they said was political bias.

The peaceful protests ended without incident.

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

Publication of another journal, Ava, was suspended by the hardline judge on Monday, increasing the total of banned publications to 14. The same judge, Saeed Mortazavi, alo said he was prepared to close one of the few remaining reformist newspapers for increasing its circulation to fill the gap left by the bans. But the liberal Ministry of Culture, responsible for press affairs, told the publisher to ignore the warning.

The bans, which aimed at the heart of the reform program 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 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.

Last week, Ayatollah Khamenei said some reformist newspapers had been turned into "bases of the enemy," remarks widely seen here as heralding a campaign against the independent press.

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Artful and Crafty Defense in `University Dormitory Case'

Ham Mihan April 27, 2000

Reza Hojjati, a member of the Central Committee of Office of the Consolidation Unity (OCU)said: "The current trial of the `university dormitory case' makes it appear that the students should apologize for the sequence ...

Nazari and his friends are even boasting of upholding the public cause but the public has refuted their bids at three consecutive elections... Nazari has been portrayed as a scorched victim of the attack on public institutions such as the National Security Council...

Unfortunately the media which should be busy reporting the court proceedings have been illegally shut down.."

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Hard-line Iranian press court closes down three more papers

By Ali Akbar Dareini

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Apr. 27 — Iranian hard-liners closed down three more newspapers today, including one owned by the brother of President Mohammad Khatami, as campaigning began for a second round of voting in legislative polls that have set off a fierce confrontation with reformers.

The closures came a day after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed the recent crackdown on reformist newspapers, describing the publications as "deviant'' and urging his supporters not to remain silent.

The Press Court, which is dominated by hard-liners, said Mohammad-Reza Khatami's newspaper and two others had violated press laws. The violations were not detailed today, but Khatami was warned Tuesday about having published several editions a day.

The move brought to 16 the number of reformist publications closed down in the past week as hard-liners resist the president's campaign to loosen social, political and cultural restrictions. The only reformist paper still publishing is Bayan, which has not been as outspoken as the others.

Supporters of President Khatami's reforms have responded with peaceful protests, amid warnings from leaders not to give hard-liners a pretext for harsher measures.

Run-off elections will be held May 5 for 66 seats that were not decided in the February polls for the 290-member Parliament, or Majlis. More than 120 candidates in 52 constituencies scattered across Iran started their weeklong campaigns, lining the streets with posters and handing out leaflets.

Iranians delivered a severe blow to hard-liners when they overwhelmingly voted for reformers in February's elections.

Following their defeat, the hard-liners have been hitting back, using considerable power derived from their control of the judiciary, the state broadcasting media and the Guardians Council that supervises elections.

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New ban on papers fuels Iran crisis

TEHRAN, April 27 (AFP) - Iran's conservative judiciary stoked up tension again Thursday by ordering the closure of the two most important reformist newspapers, including that of President Mohammad Khatami's brother.

The move, reported by the official news agency IRNA, on top of previous suspensions left the reformist camp without a voice for the second round of the parliamentary elections on May 5.

The ban on Mosharekat and Sobh-e-Emruz brought to 16 the total number of dailies and periodicals closed down by the conservative-dominated judiciary since Sunday.

Mosharekat is the organ of the main reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) of Mohammad-Reza Khatami, who topped the poll in Tehran in the February elections and had already been warned Wednesday by the press court.

Sobh-e-Emruz is headed by Said Hajarian, who was wounded in an assassination attempt on March 12. It was banned with others on Monday, but the suspension was lifted almost immediately. They have respective circulations of 150,000 and 200,000, and with their high-profile directors are among the flagships of the reformist press.

The closures followed a new attack on the reformist press late Wednesday by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, although he pledged full backing for President Khatami.

Analysts said earlier this week that the suspension of Mosharekat could take the conservatives over a "red line" in their conflict with reformists that has escalated since they lost their control of parliament in the February 18 polls.

However Abdollah Shiravani at Mosharekat's public relations office told AFP, "We received the order by fax ... we are not reading it as saying that we have to cease publication. We are still looking into it.

"If our interpretations are correct we plan to publish the paper on Saturday, God willing."

Friday is a public holiday in Iran and there was no immediate reaction late Thursday to the latest ban. The previous closures prompted sporadic protests by students, but all were peaceful.

Analysts said before the latest blow that the final decision to call the second round of voting after weeks of delay, and Khamenei's praise for Khatami, even though coupled with criticism, had lowered the tension.

The new crackdown came as campaigning began for the second run-off round for 66 seats, depriving the reformists of nearly all their media, including 11 dailies, three weeklies and a bi-monthly.

A fourth weekly, Ava, also suspended Thursday, is close to dissident cleric Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, who was disgraced after being named as the successor of the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

In a strong statement earlier Thursday the justice department hit out at "unsound" critics of the closures, singling out the culture ministry headed by Ataollah Mojerani, a bane of the conservatives for his alleged "laxness" towards the press.

The department, quoted by IRNA, listed a catalogue of punishable offences under the press laws, implying that the offending papers were guilty of them.

They included insulting religion, publishing indecent photographs, provoking social dissension, disclosing military secrets and details of closed-door parliamentary hearings and court cases, vilifying officials from Khamenei downwards, and incitement to crime.

"Had the (culture) ministry carried out its duties and issued necessary notifications in due time" the judiciary would not have been compelled to take measures against the press "to protect ideological, religious and national foundations and public rights," it said.

"The justice ministry will do its duty and deal categorically with offenders from any rank and post and will not be affected by any ballyhoo or political pressure," it concluded.

As well as banning the press the courts have sent three journalists to prison this month, two after appeals were quashed and one, Sobh-e-Emruz's investigative reported Akhbar Ganji, pending investigations.

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Censorship in Iran

The Boston Globe Editorial

April 26, 2000 page A22

In its theocratic ideology as in its assumptions about progress and tradition, no state could be more antithetical to the Soviet Union than the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nevertheless, these two revolutionary regimes share a common trait: Each in its own way is incompatible with a free press.

Until a hardliners' crackdown this week on reformist newspapers and magazines, optimists had cited the liveliness and diversity of the Iranian press under reformist President Mohammad Khatami as a sign that the Islamic Revolution was molting gradually into some new political entity - a theocratic democracy. Courageous journalists were exposing the crimes and corruption of the clerical rulers. In the absence of political parties, Iran's literate and politically aware population relied on the press as their principal source for resistance to the regime.

The closing of 14 reformist publications by a judiciary in the grip of the hardliners implies a determination to roll back the electoral transfer of power from absolutists to reformers. The absolutists, who control the courts, army, police, intelligence services, and the paternalistic Guardians Council, have made the connection that was made in the Soviet Union by the communist hardliners who mounted a desperate coup in August 1991. They blamed their unpopularity and their defeat in parliamentary and presidential elections on Iran's partially free press.

Journalists who have disclosed the hardliners' death squads or their corruption have been beaten, shot, or imprisoned. It may be, however, that Iran has already become too much of an open society for the crackdown to have the desired effect. Iranians, who have voted overwhelmingly to be rid of the clerical establishment in three elections, listen in great numbers to radio broadcasts from abroad such as the BBC, Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and Radio Israel. They can no longer be counted on to believe that the banned publications were ''part of the cultural assault of the foreign enemies of Iran.''

The hardliners' assault on the press reflects an understanding that their power cannot coexist with Iran's glasnost. They are fighting what Vaclav Havel called the human desire to live in truth.

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Creeping Coup

The Times Leading Article

Iran's clerical zealots are trying to halt reform

April 27, 2000

Iran is again teetering on turmoil. Frustrated by their loss of parliamentary control and desperate to stop President Khatami and his liberal allies introducing reforms that would marginalise their influence, Iran's hardliners have launched a counter-attack.

In the past few days the Press Court has ordered the closure of 13 pro-reform newspapers, jailing two journalists, and yesterday it issued an official warning to Mohammad Reza Khatami, the President's brother and newspaper owner. A clerical court issued an arrest warrant for an outspoken cleric who attended a conference in Berlin where Iran's regime was criticised. The conservative-led Guardian Council has already annulled 12 constituency results from the February elections and is challenging the liberals' capture of 29 of the 30 seats in Tehran. And the outgoing parliament has passed new laws making it easier to prosecute writers and publishers.

The hardliners are intent on provoking a crisis as a pretext for a more comprehensive crackdown. Last year they used the student demonstrations - which undercover agents helped to foment - as an excuse for widespread arrests and intimidation of "anti-Islamic" elements. Now the clear aim is to lure President Khatami's allies into challenging clerical power and then purge them as enemies of the Islamic Republic.

Despite their overwhelming defeat in the parliamentary elections and Mr Khatami's continuing huge popularity, the hardliners still wield formidable power. They control the judiciary, the state media, much of the military and the Guardian Council, an election supervisory body that also vets all laws passed by parliament. This council yesterday announced that the run-off for 66 seats still to be decided would be held on May 5, a snap decision which appears intended to capitalise on the closure of the newspapers which have been a powerful mouthpiece for the reformist cause.

The power struggle reveals the deep hatred of Mr Khatami and his pluralist reforms by the clerical establishment, their thuggish vigilantes and those who have corruptly used their monopoly of power to enrich themselves. This sudden, dramatic, confrontation is intended to undermine his popularity by making it impossible for him to translate election promises of greater freedom of expression and personal liberty into action. But by appealing for calm, refusing to be intimidated and keeping all campus demonstrations peaceful, he and his allies have thwarted those itching for a crackdown. Their dilemma now is whether to cast aside any pretence of democracy and overturn the election results, perhaps even by an overt coup, or whether to try - probably vainly - to halt further reformist moves by intimidation.

The confrontation has repercussions that spread far beyond Iran. Islamist zealots will do what they can to sabotage any rapprochement with the West, and are already reported to be encouraging their Hezbollah allies in southern Lebanon to start attacking Israeli targets as soon as Israel pulls its troops out. And while Tehran's ministers preach reconciliation in the Gulf and to the West, extremists are preparing to resume terrorist attacks to renew the confrontation with Washington and halt any European attempt to bolster trade and political links.

The only uncertainty is whether the hardliners' assault signals the desperation of those on the way out determined to do as much damage as they can, or whether it is the prelude to a shutdown of parliament by those who have no intention of ever giving up power. If it is the second, Iran faces a long, bloody and dangerous struggle.

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Iran's young 'rookie' lawmakers

The Christian Science Monitor By Scott Peterson

Peaceful protests across Iran intensified yesterday against conservatives' crackdown on reforms.

April 26, 2000

The euphoria of victory is wearing off for Iran's young reformers. Just one month away from taking their plush, red-trimmed seats as the new, boisterous majority in parliament, the gravity of their popular "coup" in February elections is settling in - and provoking anxiety.

Under unprecedented assault from hard-line conservative clerics, who see their grip on the Islamic republic slipping away, young reformers loyal to President Mohamad Khatami are soberly taking stock.

Unfamiliar with exercising power, the agenda of this new generation of leaders is grounded on civil rights, the people's will, and religion - the same ingredients that powered the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But a strong old-guard backlash - evident in recent days with the closure of more than a dozen pro-reform newspapers, the jailing of editors, and annulment of some election results - points to severe challenges ahead.

"I know there will be hard work and a heavy responsibility on my shoulders," says Fatema Haqiqat-Jou - at 31, the youngest woman to be elected to Iran's majlis, or parliament. "I am a bit concerned about whether we can fulfill the high expectations of the people."

Still, Ms. Haqiqat-Jou - who holds her chador, or shawl, closely around her face in conservative fashion, while at the same time sporting designer sleeves with Yves Saint-Laurent buttons - says she is "optimistic about the future of reforms," because the conservatives "have no choice but to let the new parliament do its work."

A handful of small protests over right-wing moves have been peaceful. But the message was clear on one student banner, which read: "The people's silence is not a sign of their consent." Few of Iran's new elite have ever held office. "They may be a little naive and are not very prepared, but maybe that is not so important," says a senior Western diplomat. "What the country needs now is political determination, and the new members have strong political will."

A "new depth of crisis" has descended upon Iran in past weeks, the diplomat says. "There was euphoria after the election, and conservatives were so hurt by the results that all was quiet. But now they have recovered, and the counteroffensive is under way."

"Conservatives are trying to create as much trouble as they can," he adds, "but there are some red lines they can't cross, because of risks to the regime."

Among those red lines is somehow annulling the election victory, as some far-fetched rumors suggest, or preventing the next parliament from sitting.

"Power in Iran is gradually transferring to the second generation of the revolution," says Masam Saeedi, at 30 also one of the youngest new parliamentarians. "For the first time, people are voting for an agenda, not a personality."

The result has been a sea change in Iranian politics says Mr. Saeedi, who holds a masters degree in chemistry, and whose well-trimmed moustache and beard here indicates religious reverence.

"There is a confrontation between modernism and tradition, and this is the cost of the transformation period. These restrictions can't work anymore, because the reform discussion has reached very deeply," he says.

"We have to start the challenge one day, so it's better to start while we are young," he adds. "I think that defending the people's rights doesn't depend on your age, but on your skills."

Reformists now control two pillars of power in Iran - the presidency and parliament - but hard-liners still control the military, security, intelligence services, and largely influence the judiciary.

The most important challenge for the new parliament, says Haqiqat-Jou, is reconciling "different interpretations of Islam."

"Obviously people prefer our interpretation of individual and social rights and pluralism," she says adjusting her head scarf with elegant hands. "Islam is a method of living, and so should not be disliked by the people.... It's a fight we have to win."

Still, divisions have begun to appear. A dozen prominent reformers visited a conference in Berlin earlier this month, but selective video clips played back home by the conservative-controlled state television provoked an outcry.

While some say that reformers came off as patriots staunchly defending Iran, footage of anti-Iran protesters and an Iranian exile woman baring her arms in public and dancing - an illegal act in Iran - caused even Mr. Khatami to condemn the conference.

All the participants have been interrogated, and one, top reform editor Akbar Ganji, has been jailed.

"The reformists are providing their rivals with many reasons to attack," says one prominent newspaper editor, who asked not to be named. "Dancing was never shown on TV here for 20 years, but the rightists did it for political gain."

Some see the hand of the Iranian exile group Mujahideen e-Khalq (MKO) in the Berlin events, and note how similar the aims of the MKO and Iran's hard-liners - at least in tarnishing Khatami's image - may be today.

"For the MKO, if Khatami succeeds, that will be the popular consecration of the Islamic Republic, which they despise," says a Western diplomat. "And for the conservatives, if Khatami fails that opens the door to everything, including the fall of the regime."

The scandal shows how overheated Iran's political climate now is. "Every day in every other country, you see thousands of ladies dressed that way," the diplomat adds. "I am always surprised at the talent of this country to make such a major event out of nothing."

The fallout in Iran is very real, however. Saeedi says his constituents - who often expect to see a man twice his age speak to them - are enthusiastic when they hear him speak convincingly of social and economic problems that the next parliament must grapple with.

And for Haqiqat-Jou, the expectations of those 1 million Iranians who voted for her pile up everyday.

"Whenever I meet someone now, they present their personal difficulties as the most important thing," she says. "Retired people say 'Don't forget our pensions'; government workers say 'Don't forget to raise our salaries.' Expectations are very high."

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Hardliners in elite force 'plotting coup against Iranian president'

The Guardian Geneive Abdo in Tehran

Thursday April 27, 2000

Several commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guards have mapped out a strategy to force reformist foes to "stay silent or pull aside" in a planning session which it is claimed could be described as a precursor to a coup against President Mohammad Khatami.

Three senior officials of the Revolutionary Guards and their allies outlined a three-stage plan to be carried out by a "crisis committee", according to notes taken from a tape of the meeting two weeks ago, which have been made available to the Guardian.

The first stage was to close 18 newspapers. On Monday, hardliners in the judiciary issued orders to shut down 13 newspapers and journals. The other stages include tapping leading reformers' telephones, disrupting the Tehran bazaar and seminaries to incite senior clerics, and deploying forces in the countryside to terrorise citizens and force the supporters of reform to "stay silent or pull aside".

If these steps were successful, the final stage would be to force a coup, according to the notes from the tape. "A coup on what pretext?" asked one participant. "A coup on the grounds that some [reformers] could be foreign agents or spies," replied another.

The commanders discussed how to gain the support of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Revolutionary Guards, created after the 1979 revolution to protect clerical rule, are estimated by western analysts to number about 150,000 - around a third of the armed forces. If they were to stage a coup, President Khatami would be at the mercy of Ayatollah Khamenei, who has power over the military and would be forced to take sides.

They also discussed ways to postpone the convening of a new parliament, in which reformist candidates won a plurality of seats in February's elections. It is due to hold its first session on May 28.

One man at the meeting recommended that Ayatollah Khamenei assign duties to "representatives" in the provinces so "that a sense of terror could be created".

Rumours of a coup have swept Iran since the Revolutionary Guards issued a statement on April 16, warning that they were prepared to eliminate their enemies if necessary. "The Islamic revolution is a revolution of reason and compassion. But, if necessary, the enemies will also feel the [pain] and blows in their skull, that they will forever be stopped from hatching plots and committing crimes," it said.

The Guards, responding to fears of a coup plot, issued another statement on Monday dismissing the rumours.

"Today, the word coup d'etat is a defunct word in our country. Considering the foundation that has been laid by the eminent Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the republic] for political management of the country, coup d'etat is a meaningless, alien and irrelevant word."

Pro-reform newspapers and government officials began warning of a shadowy "crisis committee" earlier this week.

Sobh-e Emrouz, one of the few reformist newspapers allowed to stay open, has reported the aims of the Guards and their allies in the police and the state broadcast monopoly.

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Iran's Press, Now Silenced, Is Roasted by Top Cleric

The New York Times By SUSAN SACHS

April 27, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran, April 26 -- As scattered protests continued against the abrupt closing of 13 newspapers, the country's most powerful Muslim cleric weighed in with a vehement attack today on the now-silenced liberal press as a deviant force bent on turning the country against Islam.

The cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader who holds ultimate political and religious authority, also praised President Mohammad Khatami, the champion of the reform movement. He denounced "counterrevolutionaries" masquerading as reformers.

"The revolutionary tendencies should not keep silent in the face of such realities," he said, in a translation provided by the official Iranian news agency IRNA. But, he added, any crackdown on reformers should not be considered an attack on Mr. Khatami.

"The attitude is not correct because the president is himself defender of the system and the revolution," he said. "Moreover, I strongly support the president."

However, the ayatollah's attempt to distinguish between Mr. Khatami and his journalistic and political supporters is not likely to dispel anxiety here over the recent assault on the reformers, who are poised to take control of Iran's next Parliament.

The hard-line Council of Guardians, meanwhile, allayed some fears by announcing today that long-delayed runoff elections for 66 seats in the new 290-member parliament will take place on May 5.

In the first round of voting on Feb. 18, about 70 percent of the winners were associated with reform parties. Since then the council has voided the results of 11 races that reformers won and warned that it would change some of the results from Tehran, where reformers had captured 29 out of 30 seats.

Campaigning for the second round begins on Thursday, although the reform movement will be handicapped because most of their newspapers have been closed in the past four days by the Tehran courts. Two prominent reform editors were sent to prison on vague charges of insulting Islam, and a third, who was summoned to appear in court on Monday, is expected to be jailed as well.

Reform leaders have urged their supporters to avoid actions that might invite retaliation by the security forces, which are under the control of the supreme leader. But students in Tehran and a few provincial cities boycotted classes today and held on-campus demonstrations. So far the protests have been peaceful and the police have not intervened.

"The open question is how long the country's students and young people will be patient with what's going on," said a Western diplomat. "They have proven to be an unpredictable force."

Ayatollah Khamenei, who owes his position to the clerical establishment, has recently issued a series of ambiguous statements about the political situation. Until now, most reform leaders have said publicly that they believe Ayatollah Khamenei has not taken sides in the increasingly bitter contest.

At times he has called for national unity and calm. At times he has called for suppression of any opposition to the conservative line; last week he proclaimed that "legal violence" is justified against those who challenge the system.

The judiciary, dominated by conservative clerics, partly justified its closing of reform newspapers by saying they had displeased the supreme leader.

In the past week, courts have also issued arrest warrants for the liberal academics and clerics who attended a conference on Iranian democracy in Berlin earlier this month.

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ANALYSIS-Iran's reformers look past the press bans

By Jonathan Lyons

TEHRAN, April 27 (Reuters) - Iran's reform movement, battered by a press ban and prosecution of some of its leading lights, is looking to the convening of the new parliament on May 28 to reverse its fortunes.

In a week that saw a dozen pro-reform publications banned and moderate politicians and journalists jailed or summoned for interrogation by the hardline courts, the reformers say their best hope lies with public opinion.

"The closure of the dailies is not a setback for the reform movement because it is not a political movement," said Hamid Reza Jalaiepour, an editor of one of the banned newspapers and a driving force behind Iran's independent media.

"It is a social movement, backed by five million members of the educated middle class," he said after his newspaper Asr-e Azadegan and fellow publications were banned on Sunday and Monday without trial.

A fellow editor, Isa Saharkhiz of Akhbar-e Eqtesad, told Reuters the consensus was to maintain calm and await the new parliament, which is expected to have a solid reformist bloc intent on undoing much of the recent crackdown.

In the meantime, he said, there was little danger of an "information blockade".

"The oral tradition in Iran is strong. News spreads quickly by word of mouth, and people will gain information even without reformist newspapers."

ELECTIONS SET AT LAST

In the first sign this strategy may pay off, the conservative clerics who dominate the watchdog Guardian Council on Wednesday set the second round of parliamentary polls for May 5, after weeks of delays, recounts and disputed tallies.

They have also pledged to certify final results soon for the capital Tehran, where the reformers appear set to sweep at least 29 of 30 seats in the expanded 290-member chamber.

That announcement, which political sources say came only after supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei intervened to ensure the parliament would meet on schedule, has eased fears of a conservative plan to delay the new legislature.

Hours later, state television broadcast remarks from Khamenei directing both reformers and conservatives to play by the rules. The leader, who has final say in all matters of state, also publicly supported Khatami: "The president is among the backers of the system and the revolution, and I support him resolutely."

But plenty of dangers remain, say analysts, for the wait-and-see strategy adopted by Khatami and his allies. In a reminder of that risk, a prominent reformist said on Wednesday he had been given notes from a tape made at a recent meeting of a "crisis committee", created by hardliners within the security forces. A copy was made available to Reuters.

"The revolution, Islam and the blood of the martyrs are endangered," the notes quote a senior commander from the elite Revolutionary Guards 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."

WILD CARD ON CAMPUS

The meeting goes on to discuss measures to disable the reform movement and even to topple the Khatami government.

The steps included a press crackdown, arrest of reformist rivals as "foreign agents", the sowing of terror among the populace and convincing Khamenei, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces, of the dangers posed to the Islamic system.

Accounts of the so-called committee appeared recently in the press, prompting the conservative daily Resalat to dismiss 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 Revolutionary Guards denied a coup was in the works, saying "coup d'etat is a meaningless, alien and irrelevant word."

The reformers' approach also faces an additional threat -- this time on the left -- from the universities, traditional hotbeds of political activism.

Students have staged protests on campuses across Iran against the press bans, but so far they have heeded the calls of their leaders and reformist politicians not to take to the streets.

All sides are mindful of the violence unleashed last July after the sudden closing of the leading pro-Khatami daily Salam.

An attack by police and hardline vigilantes on a pro-democracy rally exploded into six days of the worst unrest since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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Election campaign reopens in Iran as political confusion persists

TEHRAN, April 27 (AFP) - Campaigning opened for the second round of Iran's parliamentary elections Thursday amid continued political uncertainty. But analysts said the mere fact that the polls were taking place, coupled with a strong expression of support for reformist President Mohammad Khatami from Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had helped to calm the volatile situation.

However sporadic student protests at this week's crackdown on the pro-reform press continued and the press court ordered another publication to close.

A total of 66 seats in the provinces are at stake in the May 5 run-off elections, with two candidates facing off in each. In most the reformist is expected to beat his conservative rival, confirming the pro-reform landslide in the first round.

In the first round 185 candidates were declared elected, but the results in nine seats were overturned by the conservative elections watchdog, the Council of Guardians. But the Guardians have still not confirmed the results for the all-important 30 seats in Tehran after a third recount, saying there were serious discrepancies.

The reformists were also going into battle with fewer than half their newspapers still on the streets and little likelihood of the being lifted.

Late Wednesday Khamenei launched a new attack on the reformist newspapers and on supporters of Khatami who attended a controversial seminar in Berlin earlier this month.

The seminar, seized on by the conservatives, featured criticism of the Islamic regime, members of the banned and exiled opposition group the People's Mujahadeen and a woman dancing with bare arms, taboo under Iran's strict religious code.

In attacking the seminar Khamenei levelled several barbs at German politicians, ahead of a planned trip to Berlin by Khatami. But Khamenei said he fully supported the president, whose powers he greatly exceeds, admonishing him for the failings of his economic policy.

"This critical support puts limits on the crisis," political scientist Iraj Rashti commented to AFP. "Khamenei has demonstrated his authority and confirmed the bases of the Islamic regime.

"The president has been strengthened, he has kept his popular support and his electoral legitimacy."

Students however held their biggest protest yet late Wednesday over the crackdown on the press, reports said Thursday.

The daily Bayan, one of the few pro-reform dailies to escape suspension, said 5,000 demonstrated peacefully at Ahvaz University in the south of the country in support of Khatami.

Another 1,000 staged a similar rally at the University of Ilam in the west and decided to boycott classes, the official news agency IRNA said.

More peaceful demonstrations of several hundred took place at Tehran, Masshad in the east, Shiraz in the south and Urumiyeh in the west.

In Ilam students condemned state-run television, which is also in the hands of the conservatives, for showing scenes from the Berlin seminar.

The students also protested against the failure to proclaim the definitive results of the first round of elections.

Undeterred, the press court ordered the closure of another publication, IRNA reported.

Ava (Voice), based in the central city of Isfahan, is considered to be close to Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who was disgraced after being named as successor to Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, founder of the Islamic republic.

IRNA said Ava, which has a circulation of 50,000, was accused of libel, publication of false news to disturb public opinion, distortion of remarks of different people and "desecration" of Khomeini.

Plaintiffs included the intelligence ministry, the press supervisory board, the culture and islamic guidance ministry and the special court for clergy and the revolutionary guards in Qom, the holy city where Montazeri is under house arrest.

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

Outspoken Iranian cleric doubts coup reports

PARIS, April 27 (Reuters) - An outspoken Moslem cleric threatened with arrest in his native Iran said in an interview published on Thursday he did not expect Iranian hardliners to stage a coup against moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Hasan Yousefi-Ashkevari told the daily Liberation that the country's hardline religious rulers lacked democratic legitimacy and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had too much power.

But the hardliners, who have closed down pro-reform media, were so out of step with majority opinion in Iran that they would continue their drive to limit reforms, he said in Paris after attending a controversial conference on Islam in Berlin.

Iran's hardline clerical court issued an arrest warrant for Yousefi-Ashkevari this week, saying he had acted against state interests, spread propaganda against the Islamic system, insulted the faith and acted against the status of the clergy.

Iranian reformers said on Wednesday they had learned of a "master plan" by hardliners in the security forces and their allies to crush the movement for change and even topple Khatami's government.

"Today the minority governs and the majority is in the opposition," said the cleric. He said he thought hardliners had "prepared a rather strong plan against us".

But he added: "Since the anti-reformist fringe is in the minority, I think the conditions needed for a coup hardly exist.

"All the efforts of this fringe, which monopolises the majority of political institutions, consist of limiting and taming the reform process so it can survive politically."

Yousefi-Ashkevari, who said he did not know when he would return home, said Khatami had no choice but to make concessions to the hardliners because opposing them too openly would bring him into conflict with Khamenei and lead to his dismissal.

The Berlin conference, which was disrupted by exiles opposed to Iran's Islamic system, outraged conservatives, who said the Iranian delegation failed to defend the system and the faith.

Participants who returned home have been summoned to the Revolutionary Court for interrogation and may also face prosecution.

Prosecutor Mohammad Ebrahim Nekounam of the Special Court for Clergy was quoted in Tehran as saying Yousefi-Ashkevari would be arrested on his return to Iran.

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

Iran Frees Eight Accused of Serial Killings

Tehran, April 27 (Par Daily) - Islamic Republic freed eight of the 22 people accused of serial killings of opponents of the regime and intellectuals in late 1998 on "clear proof" they were not guilty, the justice department said.

It did not name those released, and added that a number of others had been freed earlier, but did not elaborate. However it added that new suspects have been identified and arrested over the past few days.

The end of 1998 saw a rash of murders of Iranian opposition figures and intellectuals, including secular nationalist leader Daryush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh.

Several intelligence ministry employees have been implicated in the killings.

In total 23 people are known to have been arrested following the murders, but the main suspect, Saeed Emami, a former deputy minister in the intelligence ministry killed himself in prison in June 1999, according to the official version of events.

The ministry admitted some of its employees were involved in the killings but said nobody in authority knew about it or was involved, but recently some evidence were published about involvement of Former president Hashemi Rafsanjani in serial killings.

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

Judiciary Pursuing More Suspects in Serial Murders

The Tehran Times April 27, 2000

TEHRAN The Judiciary in a statement here Wednesday released the latest information on the case of the serial murders as reported by the joint committee appointed by the heads of the executive and Judiciary branches.

In a copy of statement forwarded to IRNA, the Judiciary said that in line with the developments in the management of the case and, the trend of its proceedings, the Judiciary began its review of the evidence and investigation of the accused on March 7.

The Judiciary stated that its investigation concluded that eight persons were arrested based on the testimonies given by those detained initially and were charged with involvement in the serial murders, but when the contents of their files and other facts subsequently revealed their innocence, they were released.

The Judiciary added that delving into the accusations leveled against the eight was the primary cause contributing to case becoming more complicated and diverting it from its original track. It said that the issue also led to further delay in establishing the truth.

The judiciary added that because the charges were not proved, the detainees were freed.

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

Trumped up Charges Against Rafsanjani by Underground Groups

Javan April 27, 2000

The plaintiff in the Belgium case which had leveled charges against the chairman of the Expediency Council was no other than Masoumeh Pisheh Ehsass, born 37 years ago in Rasht and a member of the Peykar counterrevolutionary group.

The latter was imprisoned and freed in 1992 and has a brother in Belgium who also belongs to heretical groups.

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

Iran frees eight accused of serial killings

TEHRAN, April 27 (AFP) - Iran Wednesday freed eight of the 22 people accused of serial killings of opponents of the regime and intellectuals in late 1998 on "clear proof" they were not guilty, the justice department said.

The reason the case has gone so slowly up to present is precisely because of the charges against the eight were baseless, the department said in a statement quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

It did not name those released, and added that a number of others had been freed earlier, but did not elaborate.

However it added that new suspects have been identified and arrested over the past few days.

The end of 1998 saw a rash of murders of Iranian opposition figures and intellectuals, including secular nationalist leader Daryush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh.

Several intelligence ministry employees have been implicated in the killings.

Reformist MP Hamid-Reza Taraqi, speaking in the wake of the reformist landslide in February's elections, criticised the outgoing conservative-led parliament for dropping an inquiry into the murders which shocked public opinion.

In total 23 people are known to have been arrested following the murders, but the main suspect, Said Emami, a former operative in the intelligence ministry killed himself in prison in June 1999, according to the official version of events.

The ministry admitted some of its employees were involved in the killings but said nobody in authority knew about it or was involved.

The killings were condemned by reformist President Khatami, and his supporters have accused the largely conservative courts of dragging their feet in the matter.

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

Iranians held in Norway for anti-Tehran paint demo

OSLO, April 27 (Reuters) - Norwegian police arrested two Iranian dissidents on Thursday for throwing red paint towards Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Morteza Sarmadi during a visit to Oslo.

In two attacks, bags of paint splattered onto Iranian embassy cars used to drive Sarmadi and other Iranian officials during a visit to the Foreign Ministry in central Oslo.

"The cars were hit. I have not had reports anyone was hit but it cannot be ruled out," Hilde Walsoe, leading investigations at Oslo police station, told Reuters.

The man and woman detained were likely to be charged with causing wilful damage, she said.

"We had to do something against this regime which is killing us," protester Nahid Khademi told Reuters in a telephone call after the first attack.

"I got paint onto the car and by accident on myself, on my sweater," she said. She said she was aged 34, had fled Iran 13 years ago and accused Iranian hardliners of jailing and torturing her relatives.

The Ministry said that Sarmadi went ahead with a meeting with Deputy Norwegian Foreign Minister Mona Juul, one of the secret brokers of a landmark peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993.

"They discussed the situation in the Middle East," spokeswoman Hanne Marie Kaarstad said.

Norway and Iran are slowly defrosting relations severely hit in 1993 when the Norwegian publisher of British author Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was shot and seriously injured in an Oslo street.

Norwegian police suspect that an Iranian hitman was behind the unsolved shooting. Norway sent an ambassador to Tehran in 1999 after a four-year break after Iran toned down a religious death order against Rushdie.

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

Iran hits out at U.S. Caspian policy

By Mike Collett-White

ALMATY, April 27 (Reuters) - Iran issued a thinly veiled warning to the United States on Thursday that its attempts to direct the flow of energy from the Caspian so as to bypass Iran and Russia threatened to destabilise an already volatile region.

Washington has pushed hard for oil and gas transport corridors running from east to west as a way of reducing the influence of Iran -- which it calls a "rogue state" -- and former regional superpower Russia over vast energy reserves.

"If the big powers intend to make this region an arena for unnecessary rivalries, the conditions will undoubtedly lead to instability and insecurity in the region," Iranian First Vice-President Hasan Habibi told a World Economic Forum summit.

Echoing speeches from other delegates during two days of meetings in Kazakhstan, he said greater cooperation within the region offered the best long-term prospects. Economics rather than politics should dictate key oil projects.

The United States backs a planned oil pipeline running from Baku in Azerbaijan to Ceyhan on Turkey's Mediterranean coast as well as a gas route running across the Caspian seabed from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Azerbaijan.

Moscow and Tehran oppose either one or both of the planned routes, which may never be built due to high costs and rivalries between participating countries.

IRAN TOUTS ITS TERRITORY AS BEST ROUTE

While a high-capacity oil pipeline is being built from Kazakhstan to Russia's Black Sea coast, Iran has been sidelined from the race to win control over strategic exports due to U.S. sanctions in force against it.

Habibi said that outlets running south across Iran to the open seas were the cheapest option. "The project for north-south connection through...Iran is a clear and economical response to this need of countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus," he said.

Tehran could eventually handle 1.8 million barrels of Caspian oil per day compared with just a trickle now, he added.

Habibi also highlighted other factors that he said continued to undermine stability in ethnically-divided Central Asia. "Today, the perils of narcotic trafficking, terrorism, conflicts and civil wars...seriously threaten all countries of the region," he said.

Russia is concerned that Afghanistan may be a future source of religious extremism and terrorism spreading north into Central Asia and beyond. Huge volumes of illegal drugs already follow the same route to Russia and Western markets.

Habibi called for a solution to a wrangle between the five countries bordering the Caspian over its status, which has held up major oil and gas projects.

Some littoral states, including Kazakhstan and Russia, have reached bilateral agreements on carving up the waters, an approach which Habibi said Iran did not support. "If...no consensus is reached on its legal status, then the Caspian will become an irritating source of instability, and God forbid, it will jeopardise the security of the region," he said.

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

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.

Your comments, articles, news, opinions and communiques are welcome and they shall be sent to: iranstudents@hotmail.com

(You'll need to specify if you wish your name and/or e.mail address to be published)

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