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Iranian government under pressure to deepen reform after murders

TEHRAN, Jan 7 (AFP) - The admission that Iranian intelligence agents were involved in the murders of dissidents has shocked the nation and provoked calls for structural reform of the government, notably the secret services.

The revelations Tuesday that renegade agents at the intelligence ministry were behind the recent murders of several writers and opposition leaders have led to a public outcry and highlighted the need for institutional changes and establishing the rule of law.

Such reforms have been a top priority of President Mohammad Khatami, but they have been slow in coming amid strong and often violent resistance from Islamic hardliners.

The president's supporters, targets of a violent campaign by Islamic extremists, are pressing for a shake-up of various institutions, mainly the judiciary and security aparatus.

"The president must move ahead with reform in the intelligence ministry without any political consideration," said a left-wing student group, Reinforcement of Solidarity Office.

"The regime's prestige is on the line. People must know the truth. The officials guilty of negligence must be sacked, expecially those at the intelligence ministry," warned Mohammad Salamati, a leading left-wing activist.

Newspapers too have demanded institutional changes and the public trial of the killers in a bid to prevent a repetition of similar crimes.

"It is true that the intelligence ministry, like many other ministries, needs to be revamped and cleansed," said Iran News.

"Publicizing the identity of the culprits and putting them on trial quickly will greatly help the matter and appease the people," added the Tehran Times, another English-language daily.

Others suggested a conspiracy reaching beyond low-ranking secret agents.

"It is possible that such organized crime is committed with the backing of people higher up, something that is not too difficult to uncover," said the newspaper Hamshahri.

Newspapers backing Khatami continue to call for or predict the ouster of Intelligence Minister Ghorban-Ali Dorrie-Najafabadi, a respected religious scholor and economist appointed after Khatami was sworn in as president in August 1997.

Many observers believe Najafabadi was chosen to clean up the image of the ministry after it was implicated in the 1992 murders of dissidents in Germany and to appease hardline conservatives.

"Few people are in the dark that the intelligence minister was not Khatami's choice, that his policies have not been in tune with those of the president," said Salam daily.

"His ouster must be considered so that the policies of the intelligence ministry are in harmony with those of the rest of the government and to make it responsive to the people," it added.

But conservative newspapers backed the minister, complimenting him for coming clean in revealing the involvement of his officials and breaking with the ministry's long tradition of secrecy.

"There are people in the opposition who dream of the day to get even with the intelligence ministry and to misrepresent the admirable record of this hardworking body," said Qods daily.

"We have to be alert and protect this sensitive arm of the regime from poisonous criticism coming from dissidents and their plots," it warned. The revelations that the murders were committed by agents within the ministry have sent shockwaves through the regime, which has always blamed Israel and the United States for any act of terrorism.

Until last week, many conservatives blamed the two enemies of the Islamic Republic for the murders and even an attack here on a group of visiting Americans by Islamic activists. Such views are now fast losing their appeal.

"Attributing such incidents to Arrogant Powers (the United States) has made us the laughing stock of the public," said presidential economic adviser Morteza Alviri.

Secular writers Mohammad Mokhtari and Mohammad Pouyandeh were kidnapped and murdered in early December. Another intellectual, Majid Sharif, was found dead under mysterious circumstances around the same time.

Secular nationalist leader Daryush Foruhar and his wife, Parvaneh, were found stabbed to death at their Tehran home on November 22.


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