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Brother of Iran's supreme leader assaulted as political violence continues

TEHRAN, Feb 13 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami called Saturday for an investigation into the assault of one of his advisers, the brother of supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, amid an escalation of political violence in the Islamic republic.

Khatami directed the intelligence and interior ministries to launch an investigation into Thursday's assault on Hadi Khamenei, publisher of the radical pro-Khatami daily Jahan-e-Islam and an adviser to the president.

Hadi was taken to hospital with head wounds after hardliners beat him up at the Mohammadieh mosque in the holy city of Qom, site of theological schools where many of Iran's leading clerics have trained and a stronghold of anti-Khatami conservatives.

The moderate president said such violence should be denounced particularly "in the theological schools, which are centers for morality, Islamic ethics and teachings," according to the official IRNA news agency.

The Salam newspaper reported Saturday that attackers broke windows in the mosque, tore up portraits of the president and shouted "Death to Khatami" as Hadi was preparing to give a speech.

Hadi is a controversial figure even within his own family, because of his links with the radical left, opposing him to his brother Ayatollah Khamenei, who is regarded as the power behind the conservatives linked to the bazaar traders and the traditional religious hierarchy.

Hardliners have been striking hard at leading moderates and figures from the radical left, who together make up the political coalition backing the reformist president.

They have have accused a number of religious figures, politicians and journalists of favouring the "the Great Satan" (the United States) and opposing the subordination of the political system to the supreme leadership of a religious guide, currently Ayatollah Khamenei, Hadi's older brother.

The current upsurge of violence is the latest in a merciless war that has been going on between radicals and conservatives through the 20 years of the existence of the Islamic republic.

Meanwhile moderate reformers, late arrivals on the political scene, have switched their support from one group to the other.

The radicals, backed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- the founder of the Islamic republic who died in 1989 -- were at the political forefront until the imam's death, but after that the moderates and conservatives did their best to marginalise them.

A reversal of the alliance -- the moderates switching allegiance to join the radicals -- led to Khatami's victory in the May 1997 presidential elections.

Now inter-factional tension is heightening in the run up to Iran's first-ever municipal elections on February 26, and there have been a number of violent episodes, particularly in Qom.

Groups of hardliners have attacked and disrupted speeches by leading supporters of the presidential camp several times in recent days.

Rasul Montajabnia, a close associate of Hadi Khamenei, was beaten up in Qom on Thursday evening in exactly the same circumstances as Hadi himself, the Salam newspaper said.

Mehdi Karubi, a former speaker of parliament and leader of the radicals, is reported by the press to have escaped an attack there recently.

Last month a religious gathering led by the influential Ayatollah Jalaeddin Taheri, a Khatami supporter, was attacked by extremists in the central town of Isfahan.

Intellectuals in the president's camp are also being targetted.

Last week hardliners prevented Salam's chief editor Abbas Abdi from speaking at a political rally in Qom.

Abdi, one of the organisers of the hostage-taking in the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, has been singled out by hardliners since he held a meeting in Paris in July with one of his former captives, the American diplomat Barry Rosen.

Another of the former hostage-takers, Ibrahim Asgharzadeh, was attacked at the beginning of this month in the western town of Hamedan.


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