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Iran students accuse conservatives of staging riots

TEHRAN, July 20 (AFP) - Pro-reform Iranian students accused the regime's conservatives on Tuesday of orchestrating last week's riots in a bid to topple President Mohammad Khatami or seriously weaken his government.

Iranian conservatives staged the riots to try to portray Khatami as powerless and ineffectual in an effort to "bring reform to a dead-end," said Ali Afshari from leading student group the Office of Consolidation and Unity.

He said it was obvious from the extent of damage throughout the capital, including neighbourhoods far from the Tehran university campus where the first protests took place, that students could not have been responsible.

"Everything was suspect from the beginning. From the extent of the damage throughout Tehran and the speed with which it was carried out, it could not possibly have been the work of students," he told reporters.

"The way the riots spread into different neighbourhoods was clearly the work of professionals," he said.

Afshari warned that if the conservative effort succeeds, Iran could face an upsurge of violence from the nation's youth, discontented by restrictions on freedom and the glacial pace of reform.

"Khatami is the last chance for the Islamic regime. His reform program is the only way the Islamic republic can survive. If it fails, future generations will turn to non-peaceful means to achieve their goals," he said.

It was the first time a top student group directly accused conservatives within the regime of staging the riots, although a number of Iran's battling political factions have tried to pin the unrest on the conservatives.

A Tehran university demonstration over the closing of a pro-reform newspaper erupted into deadly clashes pitting student protesters against security forces and Islamic hardliners.

One person was killed and three others wounded in the Tehran violence, with a second person killed in the provinces, according to official figures.

Newspaper reports said five people were killed and dozens wounded, many of whom they said were later abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.


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