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Students go back to school after bloody summer

TEHRAN, Sept 22 (AFP) - Some two million Iranian students return Thursday to universities which have been freshly refurbished after an outpouring of violence in July left dormitories trashed and at least three people dead.

On the same day, 19 million schoolchildren return to class in this country where more 20 percent of the population are aged under 20.

In the Tehran university campus in the Amirabad district, where the student movement was born on July 8 after the closure of the pro-reform newspaper Salam, the atmosphere is studious but fraught with political uncertainty.

In the days following the closure, students protested at the heavy-handed attitude of the authorities until police and the hardline Islamic militia, the Basiji, clamped down on the demonstrators.

"I hope the school year will go normally. Any violence will play into the hands of the hardliners, the right wing of the regime. What they want is to prevent the February elections which they risk losing," said Kurosh Samiei, a film student from the northern province of Mazandaran.

Four people accused of being the main instigators of the student unrest were sentenced to death last week in a closed-door session of the Tehran Revolutionary Tribunal.

The sentences have sparked strong reactions from reformist political circles in Iran and also from the international community.

"I don't think the condemned will be executed. It's an attempt to scare people," said Kurosh.

The campus, home to 6,500 students from the provinces and 130 foreigners, is a small village with shops, cinema and theatre.

Its reopening on Saturday was a bid to turn the page on the summer's troubles, with a ceremony attended by Tehran's mayor Morteza Alviri, the head of the univeristy, Manur Khalili-Araqi, and the head of the presidential office, Mohammad Abtahi.

They officially opened the doors of five damaged dormitory blocks, as well as three other run-down buildings which were also repaired. Khalili-Araqi said at the opening ceremony that the psychological scars left by the attack must also be dealt with.

"The mental harm sustained by the students during July's unrest must be compensated along with the material damage," he said.

Other leaders have tried to whip up feeling among students, one of the driving forces of the 1979 revolution, against the leader of Iran's conservatives, parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri.

President Mohammad Khatami has constantly extolled the virtues of the role of young people in the country and the "indispensible dialogue" with them.

On Monday the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the students as a "source of inspiration" during an address in the western provincial capital of Tabriz, also hard hit by the July disturbances.

"The political knowledge of the students prevents them falling into the traps of those seeking power and from being manipulated by different political groups," he said But he added that the "instigators of the troubles" had acted on "vicious motives."

The Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), chaired by President Mohammad Khatami, played down the extent of the material damage inflicted on the university in a report released last month.

It also accused several police commanders and members of extremist Islamic groups of "provocation" and "direct involvement" in the unrest.

Students and moderate newspapers said at least five people were killed and dozens injured in the unrest, many of whom they said were later abducted from Tehran hospitals by the secret police.

In Tabriz students said security forces opened fire on a student sit-in, leaving 15 people with gunshot wounds, including three women.


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