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Hardliners attack pro-democracy campus rally

TEHRAN, May 24 (Reuters) - Iranian Moslem militiamen severely beat up pro-democracy students in an attack on a rally at Tehran University on Wednesday, witnesses said.

The hardline militia, dressed in black and wearing the trademark Palestinian headscarf, grabbed and kicked around one student at a time as they charged the crowd.

They detained a dozen students and handed them over to plainclothes agents. Security forces, heavily present outside the campus, largely refrained from intervening.

The crowd had gathered for a speech by student leader Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, an Islamic militant turned pro-democracy activist. University authorities had not authorised the rally.

Tabarzadi failed to show up, leaving his supporters to chant slogans for greater freedom and the release of political prisoners.

Security forces then blocked the main campus gate to prevent the crowd from leaving the campus and to avoid further clashes.

But many of the students broke through the locked gate, joining with off-campus sympathisers in slogans against the Islamic hardliners.

On Monday, some 2,000 pro-democracy students rallied at the university to mark the third anniversary of reformist President Mohammad Khatami's election and call for deeper changes.

They used the occasion to vent their anger against hardline conservatives who have campaigned to reverse Khatami's liberal reforms.

The conservative-dominated judiciary has arrested several liberal activists and closed 18 pro-reform publications, accusing them of trying to undermine the clerical system by promoting secular values.


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