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Revolutionary Guards threaten further press crackdown

TEHRAN, Aug 1 (AFP) - The head of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) vowed to take action against newspapers that insult the elite corps amid a mounting crackdown on the nation's moderate press, reports said Sunday.

Brigadier General Rahim Safavi said the political turmoil created by last month's bloody riots in Tehran was a bid to weaken the Guards and hinted at even stricter controls on newspapers.

"If any newspaper insults or disseminates false information aimed at weakening the IRGC, the corps will take legal action against it," he said, quoted by the English-language daily Iran News.

"We consider thinkers and journalists as wise people who do not undermine the country's national security but I do have complaints against the press.

"What we want from the press is to avoid following the steps of the enemies," he said.

Savafi defended a letter to President Mohammad Khatami written by 24 senior Guards commanders, published last month after apparently being leaked to the press, that said Khatami's democratic reforms were leading Iran to "anarchy."

"In fact the danger they had predicted did come to pass," Savafi said, referring to the six days of riots that erupted after a student protest over the closure of a moderate newspaper was attacked by security forces and Islamic militants.

"What is going on in the country's political scene ... is aimed at weakening the IRGC," he said.

The letter created a firestorm of controversy as reformists charged it was leaked to weaken Khatami and undermine his reform agenda while conservatives insisted it had been released to harm the image of the Guards, a pillar of Iran's clerical regime.

Savafi also lashed out a newspapers which criticised the militants, particularly the volunteer Basiji militia who reportedly attacked the students with clubs and chains while police stood by without intervening.

"I hope those who have targeted the Basiji become revolutionaries themselves," he said.

The pro-reform press that flourished after Khatami took office two years ago has since been the target of a relentless crackdown.

Three major reform papers have been closed down since beginning of the year and dozens of moderate journalists have been arrested or brought in for questioning by the conservative-dominated judiciary.

Last month's riots, sparked by the closure of a leading pro-Khatami newspaper, were the worst unrest in Tehran since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

One person died and three were wounded, according to official figures.

Moderate newspapers said five people died and dozens were injured, many of whom they said were later abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.


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