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Former mayor's imprisonment leads to groundswell of support

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Rallies in the Iranian capital, parliamentary demands for a pardon, angry editorials saying an honest, hardworking man is being discarded "like tissue paper."

The groundswell of support for Tehran's former mayor, who began serving a prison sentence last week for embezzlement, comes from the many Iranians who believe a power struggle between hard-liners and reformists, not corruption, landed Gholamhossein Karbaschi in jail.

Everywhere they go, residents of Tehran see Karbaschi's stamp on a city he helped clean up and modernize. And few would say that prosecutors came close to proving Karbaschi embezzled municipal funds.

"It would be a terrible mistake and a colossal error if (officials) think honest, hardworking and efficient managers can be found and then discarded like tissue paper," the Iran Daily newspaper said Monday.

"After all, how many Karbaschis does this country, plagued as it is by mismanagement and corruption, really have?" it asked.

A majority of deputies in the Majlis, or parliament, have appealed to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to pardon Karbaschi. A letter signed by 146 deputies in the 270-seat Parliament urged Khamenei to consider the ex-mayor's services.

When Karbaschi became mayor of Tehran in 1989, Iran was still reeling from the 1980-88 war with Iraq. The capital was a dirty, drab metropolis with few recreational facilities, and traffic jams so bad it took hours to travel even short distances.

During his eight years as mayor, Karbaschi established parks citywide, built new roads and developed 1,300 sports facilities and more than a dozen cultural centers. He did it all without spending any government money.

Instead, he taxed wealthy merchants -- the same people who make up the hard-liners' power base. The hard-liners singled him out after their candidate was routed in the May 1997 presidential election by the moderate Mohammad Khatami.

Karbaschi had run Khatami's election campaign, and many Iranians viewed his trial as a political settling of scores by the hard-liners.

Karbaschi was sent to prison Thursday to serve a two-year sentence for corruption. He had been out on bail since being convicted in July of embezzling public funds. His original five-year prison sentence was reduced to two years by an appeals court, and the Supreme Court rejected his final appeal last month.


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