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Iran's Khatami slams hardliners

December 6, 2000 , TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told thousands of student supporters on Wednesday he lacked sufficient power to fully realize his vision of a democratic Islamic system in Iran. Photos here

Khatami, a popular reformist cleric, attacked his powerful hardline opponents, accusing them of trying to cling to power at any expense.

It was the second time in recent days he admitted failure in implementing the constitution in the face of hardline opposition.

"I am responsible for the constitution and must have the needed resources to meet this responsibility," he said in a question-and-answer session with students at a Tehran campus.

"When I see the law is broken I should be able to stop it immediately and send it for investigation. But I don't have this prerogative. I should have it to do the job correctly."

Iran's judiciary, dominated by hardliners, has closed most independent publications and jailed a number of reformist activists, accusing them of trying to undermine the Islamic system.

Despite enjoying widespread popular backing, Khatami has not been able to defend his reformist allies, often keeping silent to avoid provoking his opponents, who also control security and the armed forces.

But as he nears the end of his four-year term, the president has been more vocal, goaded by students and other radical allies who are growing impatient with the slow pace of liberal reform.

"Unfortunately, some press violations have been tried without jury. I have repeatedly served notices, which is all I can do," he said.

The students, holding pictures of Khatami and jailed dissident clerics, often drowned out the president's remarks with chants demanding freedom for jailed activists, the resignation of hardline officials and a referendum on the constitution.

The event marked Student Day, which dates back to the killing of three students by police during a visit by the then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon in the 1950s.

Khatami repeated a demand for greater constitutional powers, a call which has drawn criticism from conservative leaders, who accuse the president of playing politics to ensure his re-election next May.

Khatami has suggested he will seek a new term.

"There are certain provisions of the constitution which are not respected. We should find a mechanism to make sure the law is not violated," he said.

There were minor scuffles between students and a group of hardline activists trying to disrupt the event.


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