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Hardliners in elite force 'plotting coup against Iranian president'

Geneive Abdo in Tehran
The Guardian, London
Thursday April 27, 2000

Several commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guards have mapped out a strategy to force reformist foes to "stay silent or pull aside" in a planning session which it is claimed could be described as a precursor to a coup against President Mohammad Khatami.

Three senior officials of the Revolutionary Guards and their allies outlined a three-stage plan to be carried out by a "crisis committee", according to notes taken from a tape of the meeting two weeks ago, which have been made available to the Guardian.

The first stage was to close 18 newspapers. On Monday, hardliners in the judiciary issued orders to shut down 13 newspapers and journals.

The other stages include tapping leading reformers' telephones, disrupting the Tehran bazaar and seminaries to incite senior clerics, and deploying forces in the countryside to terrorise citizens and force the supporters of reform to "stay silent or pull aside".

If these steps were successful, the final stage would be to force a coup, according to the notes from the tape. "A coup on what pretext?" asked one participant. "A coup on the grounds that some [reformers] could be foreign agents or spies," replied another.

The commanders discussed how to gain the support of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Revolutionary Guards, created after the 1979 revolution to protect clerical rule, are estimated by western analysts to number about 150,000 - around a third of the armed forces. If they were to stage a coup, President Khatami would be at the mercy of Ayatollah Khamenei, who has power over the military and would be forced to take sides.

They also discussed ways to postpone the convening of a new parliament, in which reformist candidates won a plurality of seats in February's elections. It is due to hold its first session on May 28.

One man at the meeting recommended that Ayatollah Khamenei assign duties to "representatives" in the provinces so "that a sense of terror could be created".

Rumours of a coup have swept Iran since the Revolutionary Guards issued a statement on April 16, warning that they were prepared to eliminate their enemies if necessary. "The Islamic revolution is a revolution of reason and compassion. But, if necessary, the enemies will also feel the [pain] and blows in their skull, that they will forever be stopped from hatching plots and committing crimes," it said.

The Guards, responding to fears of a coup plot, issued another statement on Monday dismissing the rumours.

"Today, the word coup d'etat is a defunct word in our country. Considering the foundation that has been laid by the eminent Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the republic] for political management of the country, coup d'etat is a meaningless, alien and irrelevant word."

Pro-reform newspapers and government officials began warning of a shadowy "crisis committee" earlier this week.

Sobh-e Emrouz, one of the few reformist newspapers allowed to stay open, has reported the aims of the Guards and their allies in the police and the state broadcast monopoly.


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