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Dozens Arrested in Iranian Pro-Reform Protests

November 23, 2002|From Reuters

TEHRAN — Dozens of people were arrested and several hurt in clashes in three Iranian cities Friday when the anniversary of a dissident's slaying added impetus to the largest pro-reform protests in three years.

In Tehran, at least a dozen people, some of them local journalists, were arrested and several were punched and kicked by hard-line Islamic militiamen after about 5,000 people started chanting, "Political prisoners must be freed!" witnesses said.

In the northeastern city of Mashhad, 60 people were arrested at a pro-reform rally, and in the southern city of Shiraz another 25 were detained, the ISNA student news agency reported.

The demonstrations followed two weeks of almost daily protests by students demanding free speech and political reform in the Islamic Republic, where moderate President Mohammad Khatami is locked in a power struggle with hard-liners who control key levers of power.

The large Tehran gathering in honor of Dariush Forouhar -- a nationalist stabbed to death at home along with his wife in 1998 by Intelligence Ministry agents -- was the first reformist rally in the last two weeks not led by students. It was also the first in that period to be forcibly broken up by security forces.

Khatami, who has threatened to resign if conservatives keep blocking his reform agenda, is pushing for legislation giving him greater authority to run the country of 65 million people.

Iran's hard-liners run the judiciary, armed forces and unelected state bodies that can veto legislation and election candidates.

The pro-reform demonstrators were vastly outnumbered by the tens of thousands of faithful at Friday prayers at Tehran University, where Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said pro-U.S. enemies of the state were behind the protests.

"Everyone knows who the enemy is. Today the enemy of the nation and the government and the system and of our country's independence and freedom is the arrogant American government," said Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure.

At the memorial service for Forouhar at a mosque in southern Tehran, crowds of people of mixed ages and backgrounds defied police orders to disperse and began chanting reformist slogans.

Many said they had heeded calls to show up that had been broadcast by U.S.-based Iranian satellite television stations.

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