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Khamenei calls for rapprochement of factions

TEHRAN, Oct 1 (AFP) - Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Friday for a reconciliation of Iran's conservative and reformist factions, two months after violent clashes pitted pro-reform students against police and hardline Islamists.

"The country and the revolution are in need of unity," said Khamenei, who led special weekly prayers attended by leading conservatives and reformers to mark the centenary of the birth of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei, founder of the Islamic Republic.

"The two main forces (factions) of the regime, which are faithful to the revolution, must reconcile themselves in order to isolate those who do not belong to us," he said in the presence of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

"I have held talks with leading officials from the two major forces in order to reduce the political tension, and it worked," Khamenei affirmed.

The leader's remarks came after a fresh attack by the country's conservative camp against the publication of an "anti-Islamic" play accused of mocking Iran's Shiite Muslim beliefs, which Khatami has denounced for playing into the hands of hardliners.

"It seems as though a certain group wants to create a haze across the country with a particular ambition," Khatami charged this week without elaborating on the identity of the group he suspected was behind it.

The play, published in the student magazine Moj (Wave), was accused of making fun of the belief of Iran's Shiite Muslims in a hidden 12th imam or Mahdi who will return to usher in an age of justice.

But Khamenei issued a stern warning Friday against "any arbitrary, individual or overly emotional reaction" against the authors of the piece.

"Nobody has the right to react on the basis of feelings and assume the right to defend the values of Islam. I legally and religiously forbid any act against the authors of the offense against the 12th imam," he said.

"It is down to the judiciary to examine and assess the offense and to nobody else," he said at the ceremony at Khomenei's mausoleum in south Tehran.

"I would like also to warn the various political factions against exploiting such topics for their own interests," Khamenei said in a clear reference to the increasingly bitter factional disputes ahead of next year's key parliamentary elections.

Iran's security services said last week they had arrested two young people in connection with the play, but conservative students demonstrated Tuesday to demand action against leading reformers within Khatami's government.

The supreme leader called on all top officials from both factions to prevent giving the people the image that they are caught up in a fierce struggle.

"Do not do anything that might lead the common people into thinking that the leaders of the political factions are quibbling and fighting amongst each other," he said.

The centenary celebrations came just two months after July's bloody riots sparked by police and volunteer militia attacking students protesting the closure of a pro-reform magazine.


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