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Iran's supreme leader denies political split

TEHRAN, July 30 (AFP) - Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Friday dismissed reports of a political rift with President Mohammad Khatami over the pro-democracy protests earlier this month that ended in bloodshed.

He said the reformist president had his full support and blamed the six days of unrest, the worst since the 1979 Islamic revolution, on a US campaign of propaganda and espionage aimed at undermining the Islamic republic.

"President Khatami has my 100 percent support. His handling of the events was completely proper," he said, smoothing over the political battle about the unrest that has seen conservatives charge Khatami as unfit to govern.

"There are no differences among the leadership," Khamenei told an audience packed with prominent conservatives during weekly prayers at Tehran university. Pro-reform leaders were notably absent.

Among the crowd was police chief General Hedayat Lotfian, whose resignation has been demanded by student leaders after security forces and Islamic hardliners brutally beat protesters, sparking the riots.

Khamenei insisted the unrest had been the product of an "intense" media and spying campaign by Iran's arch-enemy, the United States.

Washington "has carried out an intense psychological war against us, trying to sow dissent among the people and the leadership," Khamenei said.

"Their agents inside the country have tried to set political factions against each other," he said.

"They didn't understand that there is no battle between political factions in Iran," said Khamenei, who as supreme leader is the traditional guardian of Iran's Islamic revolutionary orthodoxy.

After his sermon Khamenei attended a funeral procession in central Tehran in honor of 72 soldiers killed in the 1980-1988 war with Iraq whose remains were recently returned to Iranian authorities.

Khatami supporters have repeatedly lashed out at conservative bastions such as the police and intelligence ministry after the riots, amid a growing crackdown on their pro-reform movement.

On Thursday students rejected claims by Iranian officials that only three people were injured in the unrest, along with one person killed, claiming 19 people were "seriously wounded" by police.

Witnesses have said police stood idle as members of hardline Islamic militias took clubs and chains and beat the students, some of whom were inside the dormitory and not taking part in the protests.

A group of some 300 current and former MPs issued a statement Thursday condemning the intelligence ministry for its "unconstitutional" treatment of those arrested in connection with the unrest.

Even Khatami has lashed out at Islamic hardliners, saying their dogmatic brand of Islam helped fuel the disturbances.

"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?" he said in a speech cited Thursday by the official IRNA news agency.

But earlier in the week he also took pains to stress there was no political split in the Islamic republic's leadership, insisting such reports were an "illusion."


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