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Iran's Revolutionary Guards denounce Khatami, students claim coup bid

By Marc Carnegie

TEHRAN, July 20 (AFP) - Iran's Revolutionary Guards denounced President Mohammad Khatami in a letter published Tuesday, saying his moves toward greater democracy were leading the Islamic republic into "anarchy."

But Khatami said the "top secret" letter had been intended for his eyes only, raising fresh suspicions of a political power struggle as his student supporters claimed conservatives had staged last week's riots to topple him.

"How long do we have to be subjected to this trial run of democracy, which has turned into anarchy and puts the Islamic regime at risk?" said 24 senior Guards commanders in the letter, which was widely published in newspapers.

"How long do we have to stand by idly watching, with extreme sadness, what is happening in the country?" they said, threatening to take matters into their own hands.

"Our reservoir of patience is running low. And if nothing is done we could not accept that," they said.

The president, in the midst of a vicious political battle over his reform policies that has intensified since the riots, said the letter had never been intended for publication.

In a statement to the official IRNA news agency, Khatami said it was a "top secret" state document and fingered the conservative Kayhan daily, which first released it on Monday, as responsible.

Pro-Khatami students added to the charges of political maneuvering Tuesday, directly accusing conservatives of orchestrating last week's violence in a bid to seize full control of the government and drive him from office.

Leading pro-reform student group the Office of Consolidation and Unity (OCU) said conservatives were trying to portray Khatami as a powerless head of state and "bring reform to a dead-end."

It said the extent of damage from the unrest, which spread quickly from Tehran university throughout the capital, showed students could not possibly 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," OCU spokesman Ali Afshari said.

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

He said Khatami still had the full support of students and warned it would be disastrous for the nation if conservatives succeeded in blocking his reform initiatives, including an easing of curbs on the press.

"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.

The unrest began after a hardline court closed down a popular reform newspaper but the regime continued its press crackdown Tuesday, arresting a top employee of another pro-Khatami daily.

A senior editor with the moderate Sobh-e-Emrouz paper was jailed and charged with publishing an article "offensive to the Koran," IRNA said.

The arrest is the latest in a series of efforts to muzzle the largely pro-Khatami media, the president's most effective counterbalance against the conservative-dominated judiciary, police and parliament.

At least three pro-Khatami papers have been closed down since the beginning of the year and many others have had editors and reporters arrested or dragged in for questioning before Iran's revolutionary courts.

One day before the university protests, parliament approved draft legislation that would send the most serious press offences before hardline religious courts rather than to press tribunals as in the past.

Reports in the moderate press are often wildly at odds with the official version of events provided by the Islamic regime.

Iranian officials said two people were killed and three wounded in the university riots.

Newspapers said at least five were killed and dozens more injured, many abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.


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