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Opposition leader calls for Khamenei's distance from conservatives

TEHRAN, Aug 31 (AFP) - An Iranian opposition leader issued an unprecedented open letter Tuesday challenging the authority of Iran's supreme leader and saying he should distance himself from the regime's conservatives.

Yadollah Sahabi, a 95-year-old co-founder of the opposition Iran Liberation Movement (ILM), said the public perception that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is linked to rightist factions risked the survival of the Islamic republic.

"It is not in the country's best interests that the public considers the leader as a partisan defender of a political faction opposed to the government" of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Sahabi said.

"His direct or indirect favouring of just one faction ... harms his stature as an independent leader and even threatens the survival of the regime," Sahabi wrote in the letter, a copy of which was received by AFP.

Sahabi hailed Khamenei's declaration of support for Khatami in July after six days of bloody riots shook the nation but said the leader needed to act "before it becomes too late and the door to reforms is closed completely."

He urged Khamenei to make a "totally clear" statement about the unrest, which erupted after police attacked university protesters, and echoed student calls for security forces to be removed from his control.

"Placing the police under the authority of the supreme leader in 1989 was a mistake ... and the best way of correcting it is to put them back under the control of the government," he said.

The supreme leader is the traditional guardian of Iran's Islamic revolutionary orthodoxy and under Iranian law his authority is not permitted to be questioned.

Conservatives and hardliners, often stiff opponents of Khatami's social and political reforms, consider themselves the true defenders of the constitutional principle of the supreme leader's authority in Iran.

Sahabi's ILM in early August accused security forces of trying to "wipe out the student movement in Iran" in a "campaign of terror" after more than 1,500 people were arrested in the wake of the unrest.

In a letter to Khatami the party, which is officially banned but tolerated by authorities, charged that students who were later released by police had said their interrogations had focussed on their possible links with the ILM.

Police attacked a dormitory at Tehran university during a student protest following the closure of a popular reformist daily, the third major pro-Khatami paper banned by the conservative-dominated judiciary this year.

The attack set off the worst unrest here since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution, with six days of violence that left three people dead and three others wounded, according to official figures.

But students and moderate newspapers said at least five people were killed and dozens wounded, many of whom they said were later abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.

The unrest also spread to the provincial capital of Tabriz, where students said security forces opened fire on a student sit-in, leaving 15 people with gunshot wounds, including three women.

Some 80 others were injured after being beaten with clubs and chains, students said.


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