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Iran divided over Khomeini's legacy 10 years after death

TEHRAN, June 3 (AFP) - Iran celebrates the 10th anniversary of the death of the Islamic Republic's founding father Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini on Friday amid deep divisions over his legacy.

Khomeini's disciples are anxious that the event should serve as a sign of the durability of the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of the Shiite Moslem clergy 20 years after the overthrow of the pro-western shah.

The current Iranian year 1378 has been baptised "the Year of Imam Khomeini" by his successor Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as it marks both the 10th anniversary of the revolutionary leader's death and the 100th year of his birth.

Iranian leaders and foreign Islamic dignatories will join hundreds of thousands of Iranians at an official ceremony on Friday in the vast mausoleum built in Khomeini's memory near the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery to the south of Tehran.

Khomeini, who died on June 4, 1989 at the age of 89, is laid to rest in a modest shrine in the main gilt-domed hall of the as yet unfinished complex near the graves of thousands of "martyrs" of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

"We must gather around the imam's noble ideas to protect the revolution against the scourge of plots," said one young Basiji (Islamic volunteer) on Tehran radio.

But 20 years after the revolution, Khomeini's heirs appear more divided than ever over the future of the Islamic Republic, struggling to tackle economic malaise and the aspirations of a young and increasingly disenchanted society.

"The Imam is said to be wary of disputes between the sons of the revolution," Ayatollah Jalali Khomeini, a relative of the late supreme leader, said in the run-up to the anniversary celebrations.

Reformists who back moderate President Mohammad Khatami believe the system has to be drastically reformed if it is to survive into the 21st century.

Aware of the problems facing a country where half of the 60 million population is under the age of 20, Khatami called on clerics to "strive for intimacy with the youth and rest

assured that the union between clergy and youth would create the strongest power." "If the clergy distance themselves from the factual realities of the present-day world, they will not be able to fulfill their role as well as they should," Khatami -- himself a culture minister under Khomeini -- said last week in the holy city of Qom.

But the conservatives are vehemently opposed to any cultural and political liberalisation, fearing it could harm revolutionary values and the power of the clergy. Parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri last month warned that the "untamed development of liberties will threaten the ideological foundations of the revolution."

He called on all factions to "silence their political quarrels and join the supreme leader (Khamenei)" and denounced "cultural plots" by "those who encourage corruption and prostitution in cultural circles under the pretext of liberty."

"The enemy seeks to make our youth indifferent and sow discord between the public and the leaders," the conservative speaker said.


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