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10 arrested for murders of dissidents in Iran

TEHRAN, Jan 12 (AFP) - Ten people have been arrested in connection with the murders of intellectuals and dissidents in Iran in which the intelligence ministry has been implicated, a committee probing the killings said Tuesday.

"Ten people have been arrested and questioned over the affair," said the committee set up by President Mohammad Khatami in a statement read on state radio and television.

"The case, very complicated, has taken on a national dimension and conducting a correct and healthy investigation is a heavy duty," it said.

Iran's intelligence ministry said last week that a number of "ill-minded and irresponsible colleagues" were involved in the murders of nationalist opposition leader Daryush Foruhar as well as several liberal writers in November and December.

The committee -- made up of Intelligence Minister Ghorban-Ali Dorrie Najafabadi, Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi Lari and a representative of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- was set up last month to investigate the killings.

The television said the members of the committee met Khatami on Tuesday and briefed him on the latest developments in the case.

The president demanded that the probe "continue with strength, without any regard for marginal issues, until final results are produced."

"Our round-the-clock investigation has produced the necessary clues to identify the entire gang linked to the murders at different levels," the committee said in its statement. "A number effective elements in the gang's leadership were arrested and questioned."

The committee said "a number of others have been fully identified and are presently under surveillance," adding that it preferred to withhold detailed information while the probe continues.

"The masterminds behind the murders have been identified and a massive investigation has been launched to find outside elements who are mainly responsible for the suspicious murders," it said.

"The investigation will continue without any attention to the foreign and domestic political hype around the affair and the culprits will be put on trial as soon as possible," the statement added.

The affair has led to bitter political fighting between reformers backing Khatami and his conservative opponents over how to deal with the formidable secret services, with both sides blaming each other for the murders.

Radical left-wing reformers have demanded the conservative intelligence minister's ouster, while the conservatives appear determined to stop their rivals from making any political gains from the incident.

Ruhollah Hosseinian, a hardline cleric in charge of the state archives for official documents, accused Khatami's left-wing supporters of having a role in the murders, suggesting that they are being manipulated by American secret services.

He accused the president's backers of launching a "malicious campaign" to gain control of the all-powerful intelligence agency and urged its chief to hold fast against efforts to oust him.

His comments published in the hardline Kayhan newspaper and broadcast on conservative-run television provoked widespread anger in the moderate and left-wing press, which described his comments as a "pathetic tactic" to stop the investigation into the murders.

They also accused state radio and television of insulting Khatami and seeking to undermine his efforts to fight political violence by Islamic hardliners.

The committee in charge of the investigation, for its part, blasted "the rumors and the scandal-mongering" around the case, charging that "the wrong analysis and accusations are aimed at confusing the process of investigation and deny the truth."

"Any news or information coming from anywhere but this committee or Tehran's military court is void and inauspicious," it warned.

Meanwhile, some 300 students staged a rally here Tuesday accusing Khatami's opponents of trying to obstruct the investigation into the killings.

They shouted slogans in support of Khatami and called on Najafabadi and Ali Larijani, the head of radio and television, to resign.

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