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Khatami says hardline brand of Islam helped fuel Iran unrest

TEHRAN, July 29 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami lashed out at Islamic hardliners in remarks published Thursday, saying their dogmatic brand of Islam was largely to blame for the bloody Tehran riots.

"Should we carry out aggression against those who don't agree with us? Should we beat people up brutally because they don't see things our way?" Khatami said in a remarkable attack on the nation's hardline faithful.

"People shouldn't think what they believe is the same thing that Islam teaches. Is Islam only what you say it is?" he said in a speech quoted by the official IRNA news agency.

In his strongest remarks since six days of riots in the capital following an attack on student protesters by security forces and Islamic hardliners, Khatami dismissed the rallying cries of Islamic militants.

"What are all these slogans, 'we will give our lives for Islam' and so on? All of us are willing to give our lives for Islam," the reformist president said.

"If everyone wants to impose his opinion on others, then no one's opinion can ever be heard," he said, stressing that the constitution of the Islamic republic was the foundation of Iranian civil rights.

"The constitution is the basis of our republic and people or groups should not say, I know better, I have a different opinion.

The basis of the Islamic regime is the constitution and everyone must accept it," he said.

"Defending Islam means giving people their rights.

The dignity we accord to our people means far more than just benefits and services provided by the state," he said.

Khatami's remarks come amid a bitter political battle with conservatives and hardliners opposed to the pro-democracy reform agenda he has tried to put into place since coming to power two years ago.

The battle was heightened by the riots earlier this month, which conservatives charged was a sign of his incompetent leadership but that supporters say was staged to topple him from power or block his reforms.

One person was killed and three wounded in the Tehran unrest, according to official figures, but newspapers on Thursday reported student claims that 19 people had been "seriously wounded" in the bloodshed.

Students have charged that security forces stood by watching as they were attacked by Islamic militants with clubs and chains.

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


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