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Reformists battered from all sides as Iran political tensions mount

TEHRAN, April 20 (AFP) - Supporters of Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami came under increasingly heavy attack Thursday as political tensions mounted in the country.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei flayed pro-reform newspapers and a hardline court summoned Khatami aides for questioning, accusing them of making anti-Islamic statements at a recent conference in Berlin. Related news here Related feature here

The elite Revolutionary Guards, directly controlled by Khamenei, meanwhile called for nationwide demonstrations Friday to show "hatred and repugnance" at "the blows dealt to Islam and the people" at the gathering.

Khamenei, whose powers dwarf those of the president, told tens of thousands of young people in a fiery speech in Tehran that the reformist press had become "enemy strongholds" that were harming the interests of the nation.

"What they are doing is a grave danger to us. If their leaders do not put a stop to it, the enemy will move ahead," said Khamenei, who accused the press of carrying out "the same agenda" as the media in the United States.

He called on the government to take action against the press, which has flourished since Khatami's 1997 election despite regular crackdowns by the conservative-led courts and police.

But he also expressed support for Khatami and, just as he did following last year's violent riots which shook the capital after the closing of a pro-Khatami newspaper, insisted that the Iranian leadership was united.

"Our nation is based on Islam, and all its leaders are united on the matter," said Khamenei, who called the president -- himself a cleric -- a "religious and very responsible man."

The hardline revolutionary courts joined in the offensive Thursday, summoning reformists who criticised the regime at the Berlin conference earlier this month.

"In light of statements made by participants at the Berlin conference against the Islamic Republic, the tenets of Islam, and their erroneous depictions of the Iranian people's beliefs, the case has been referred to the revolutionary Islamic court and the participants have been summoned," Tehran radio said, quoting a judiciary statement.

The Revolutionary Guards called for demonstrations in Tehran and other cities after Friday prayers, the evening paper Kayhan reported.

But in a separate statement carried by the official IRNA news agency they denied rumours that they were planning a coup, blaming them on "foreign enemies and their lackeys inside Iran" in "a plot fomented by the propaganda of the American military and politicians."

The Heinrich Boell Foundation invited many close allies and supporters of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to the April 7 and 8 conference on "Iran after the elections."

The broadcast was strongly condemned as "psychological warfare" by Khatami's representative on the State Radio and Television Company, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh.

Iran's main reform party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) headed by Khatami's brother, accused the television service of trying to stop the new reformist-dominated parliament from taking office.

Political tension has been mounting since the first round on February 18 of parliamentary elections in which reformists ousted their rivals and ended the longstanding conservative majority in the legislature.

Since then the conservative-led Council of Guardians has overturned the election of several reformists, a move which sparked riots and demonstrations in several cities.

But the council has failed to declare the official results of the first round or set a date for second-round run-offs, as the May 28 deadline for the first session of the new parliament draws nearer.

"Not respecting the timetable could be a kind of political coup," said political analyst Iradj Rashti.


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