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Iranian president calls for legalization of opposition groups

TEHRAN, June 11 (AFP) - Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami has called for greater tolerance for dissenting views and the legalization of opposition groups, the official IRNA news agency reported Friday.

Differences of opinion are a "normal phenomenon" and "should be recognized as a normal and accepted trend," the president told a reformist group which backs his policies, the Islamic Iran Participation Front.

If different views are not "expressed through the right channels, that is parties and communities, they will go underground, causing great losses to society and the system," he told the meeting Thursday.

Official recognition would mean that the groups agree they are "subject to the law."

Giving them legal breathing space "will help create transparency in their political and social actions and avoid tension and instability in society," he said.

He described the formation of "different communities with different tastes and opinions within the framework of the law" as "one of the government's principal policies."

"If we want a developed society based on virtue and competence, we should recognize and tolerate different views and provide a suitable legal framework for the activities of different groups."

He acknowledged that there were those who stretched the limits of tolerance.

"Without any doubt, we have some enemies who use freedom to create clashes in order to attain their own goals and deprive the people of their constitutional right to a free system."

But he urged the country to distinguish "criticism from the weakening of the system."

"We cannot create stability through superficial unity, and cover up differences of opinion by prohibition and coercion. "Criticism will help consolidate the system," he said.

Khatami's speech came amid a mounting campaign by senior clerics against the his government's gradual relaxation of the political and cultural restrictions introduced after the 1979 Islamic revolution.


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