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Iran's leader sacks head of national police

By Jonathan Lyons

TEHRAN, June 28 (Reuters) - Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has sacked the hardline national police chief, the man held responsible by the powerful reform movement bloody unrest last July. The official IRNA news agency said on Wednesday Khamenei had ordered the removal of Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian as head of law enforcement forces.

Brigadier General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, of the elite Revolutionary Guards air force, was appointed in his place.

The move, just 10 days before the anniversary of the Tehran troubles, appears part of a carrot-and-stick policy that has already seen a number of student leaders detained or called in for questioning by the feared Revolutionary Court.

Students say they have no doubt the crackdown is aimed at curtailing commemorations of the six days of unrest, the worst since the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which began after police and hardline thugs attacked a peaceful student demonstration.

Khamenei gave no reason for the dismissal of Lotfian, a prominent hardliner within the security apparatus, but he directed his successor to focus on fighting crime and general lawlessness, particularly in Iran's eastern provinces.


``Under Brigadier General Hedayat Lotfian, there were valuable and exceptional efforts to improve the police force,'' IRNA quoted the leader as saying.

However, student activists and their allies in the broader reform movement blame Lotfian for the bloody assault on July 8-9 on a pro-democracy demonstration at Tehran University hostels.

Police officers and plainclothes vigilantes attacked the demonstrators with clubs and chains and then ran riot through the university dormitories, beating many students as they slept.

The attack touched off six days of unrest that threatened to spin out of control after more radical elements displaced the hapless student leadership and demanded fundamental change in Iran's Islamic system.

In response, the authorities sent in armed members of the Islamic Basij militia, which crushed the rebellion and rounded up many of the protesters -- several of whom recently had death sentences reduced by the leader to long jail terms.

Iran's largest student movement, the Office to Consolidate Unity, has applied to the Interior Ministry for permission to rally on the anniversary. The rival university Basij forces also want to rally.

No formal decision on the rally requests has been announced.


Meanwhile, reformist MPs in the new parliament have prepared a bill that would bar the police and other security forces from university campuses, without explicit permission of the chancellor or one of several ministers.

The authorities have confirmed one death in the melee and ensuing street protests, but there are persistent reports that at least five demonstrators may have been killed.

Recently, judiciary officials handed over the body of street peddler who was killed in the final day of troubles. His family had searched for news of their son for almost one year.

At the time, students demonstrators demanded Lotfian be sacked -- some even called for his execution.

Lotfian has never faced any charges but his deputy, the head of the Tehran police force, is awaiting sentencing for his part in the attack on the student hostels.


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