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Khatami slams campus magazine for playing into hands of Iran conservatives

Also responses in Persian from: * Khatami * Nateq Nuri * Mohajerani * Majlis * Ayatollahs * Jannati * Safaie-far

TEHRAN, Sept 27 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami slammed a campus magazine late Sunday for playing into the hands of conservative opponents of his reforms after it published an "offensive" play which outraged Islamic hardliners here.

"The publication of offensive articles is a great injustice for the revolution but also for the reform projects of the government," Khatami told his cabinet in a clear allusion to the play published by the magazine Moj.

The reformist president called on journalists and writers "to avoid giving any excuse to those have no scruples about exploiting matters of religion to attack the government and its reforms."

Khatami made clear that he shared conservatives' anger about the play which mocked the belief of Iran's Shiite Moslems in a hidden 12th imam or Mahdi who will return to usher in an age of justice.

The president condemned what he described as "these offences against the people's beliefs" and called on the security forces to investigate the matter "in all its dimensions."

Khatami expressed particular concern that the play had been published in a Tehran Polytechnic University review just as students returned to college after a campus protest over press freedom sparked six days of bloody riots here in July after it was attacked by police and Islamic hardliners.

The president urged the intelligence ministry to find out "why a provocative article was published and vastly circulated just on the eve of the reopening of the universities."

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

The president also expressed alarm that a play which was originally published in a small circulation magazine should have been given such widespread publicity causing offence across the country.

How was it that a play which was initially "published with a very limited circulation was later widely reproduced across the country?" he asked.

Earlier Sunday more than 170 MPs from Iran's conservative-dominated parliament signed a petition calling on Khatami to put an end to what they described as attacks "by the press and cultural circles against Islam and its sacred values."

"We call on you, who are also a member of the clergy, to pay more attention to cultural affairs," the MPs told the president.

Parliament's conservative speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri singled out two leading reformers -- Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani and Higher Education Minister Mostafa Moin -- for blame over the Moj publication, accusing them of "laxity."

But Mohajerani fired back insisting that his ministry had no powers over the licensing of campus magazines, the official IRNA news agency reported late Sunday.

Reformist supporters of Khatami have been swift to distance themselves from the Moj article.

The pro-Khatami Islamic Student Association at Tehran Polytechnic quickly announced the the suspension of the magazine and apologised to "the people and to the believers."

The Moj article came as conservatives stepped up a clampdown on the fledgling reformist press which has been one of the most tangible achievements of Khatami's two years in power.

So far this year the conservative-dominated courts have closed down no less than four leading pro-Khatami newspapers and arrested or interrogated dozens of journalists.


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