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Tehran police chief denies intensifying crackdown

TEHRAN, March 2 (Reuters) - Tehran's police chief denied on Thursday that "morals squads" have begun a new crackdown against young people and satellite television dishes, saying police were simply on increased alert for thieves and criminals.

"Our increased presence is, in principle, to deal with thieves and common criminals... Concerning social vices, no new measures have been taken, we are just continuing the old trend," Brigadier General Mohsen Ansari told Reuters.

"Nobody must openly insult the religious values of society. We are just continuing to carry out our duties, this is nothing new," he said.

Ansari's comments follow reports that morals squads have stepped up enforcement of Iran's strict social codes and the ban on satellite dishes, in what is widely seen as a hardline response to reformists' victory in parliamentary polls.

In a series of seemingly coordinated actions in the days since the February 18 vote, police and units of the Islamic Basij militia have stepped up raids on apartment blocks in search of satellite receivers.

They have hauled young men and women from restaurants, cafes and shopping malls, accusing them of violating Islamic dress codes or fraternising with the opposite sex.

The raids have been centred in affluent north Tehran, a hot-bed of reformist sentiment, prompting residents to see the hands of the defeated conservatives behind the crackdown.

But newspapers reported 42 young men and women were sentenced to 35 lashes each after morals police raided a dance party in the southern city of Shiraz.

The owner of the house where the party was held was fined 100 million rials ($12,300).

In the plush Mahmoudieh district of Tehran, residents said police units moved in last week to seize satellite dishes and receivers without search warrants.

But the police chief said all legal procedures must be followed.

"Private homes may not be entered without police showing judicial warrants and also their identification cards," Ansari said.

The leading pro-reform coalition, elected on a platform of greater social, cultural and political freedoms, has promised a repeal of the ban on satellite dishes and an end to state interference in citizens' private lives.

($1- 8149 rials at the stock exchange)


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