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Iran's leader denounces West, warns domestic press

By Jonathan Lyons

TEHRAN, April 20 (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader on Thursday vowed the country would never submit to U.S. hegemony, denouncing domestic journalists who he said were doing America's bidding to undermine the Islamic system. Related photo here

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his second major address in a week, lashed out at globalisation as a pretext for domination by the West. On April 14, he warned of the dangers of ``American-style'' reforms.

The looming threat of foreign domination, Khamenei said, was compounded by the presence of ``domestic hypocrites,'' particularly the pro-reform press.

``There is a double threat that consists of direct penetration by America as well as the new wave of globalisation,'' the leader told thousands of young people gathered at a Tehran prayer hall.

``Globalisation means a group of powers increase their cultural and economic influence throughout the world. It's like creating a joint stock company in which they own 95 percent... They have full control.

``Most countries have accepted this. There is one country which has not. We have said and we continue to say that we will not submit,'' Khamenei said, as the crowd roared: ``Death to America.''


Washington is probing for an end to 20 years of estrangement between the former allies, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last month offered regret for past U.S. policy. She also waived import bans on Iranian luxury goods.

Iranian officials have promised a comprehensive response but so far the U.S. initiative has done little more than exacerbate factional tensions between reformers grouped around President Mohammad Khatami and the conservative establishment.

It also followed a strong showing by the reformist bloc in parliamentary polls, prompting a conservative backlash that has seen aggressive prosecution of pro-reform journalists by hardliners in the judiciary.

That campaign appeared to get a boost from the leader, who has the final word in all matters of state.

``Unfortunately, today the enemy is taking roots inside Iran ...Some newspapers have become bases for our enemies,'' he said.

``I am not against press freedom, but some newspapers have been created with the aim of inciting public opinion and creating differences and mistrust between the people and the system. It seems there are 10 or 15 that are controlled from a single centre.''

Chants of ``Death to the mercenary pen-pushers'' and ``Shame on the hypocrites, leave our newspapers alone,'' rippled through a crowd swelled by members of the Islamic Basij militia and other activists, some bussed in from city mosques.


Iran's independent press has flourished under President Khatami -- a former newspaperman -- as part of his campaign to create a civil society within the Islamic system. The result is one of the most lively public debates in the entire Middle East.

But conservatives blame the press for their electoral defeat, and they say unbridled press freedom is un-Islamic, something Khatami and his allies reject.

``I have called on officials many times to take action. This is not preventing the free flow of information, but it is ending the propaganda plots of our enemies and their aim to penetrate our system,'' Khamenei said.

``This press movement is harmful to the future of our country, our youth and the revolution. They are trying continually to attack the people's faith.''

Khamenei's remarks followed a stern warning by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, who pride themselves on their loyalty to the leader, that they would not sit by idly while the Islamic system came under attack.

``We will try at first to be tolerant with the duped elements and criminals. But, when there is a need, we will descend upon them like lightening, without hesitation or discrimination,'' the Guards said in a statement.

The tough talk prompted fears in some quarters of a possible coup d'etat, rumours strenuously denied by the president's office, the Guards and other state organs.


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