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Hundreds of Iranian students rally in Tehran

TEHRAN, March 7 (AFP) - Several hundred Iranian students demonstrated at Tehran university Sunday over the arrest of leading liberal cleric Mohsen Kadivar, defying calls to postpone the rally over fears of violence.

Anti-riot police stationed around the campus put a quick end to a shoving match that erupted between protesters and Islamic fundamentalists but otherwise there was no violence.

The students chanted "Kadivar must be released" and "Death to the monopoly," a reference to hardliners in the Islamic regime such as Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who heads Iran's powerful judiciary.

"Yazdi go home" and "Yazdi and despotism -- the same struggle," shouted the protesters, many of whom were carrying portraits of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Several times the crowd broke out with chants of "Khatami, we support you" as well as "Long live Mossadegh," the father of Iranian nationalism who served as prime minister in the 1950s.

The Islamic Students Association had said earlier it was cancelling demonstrations in Tehran and nine other towns over the detention of Kadivar, whose arrest last week by order of Iran's powerful special religious court sparked widespread outrage among radicals and reformers.

The students said in a statement that they were calling off the demonstrations at the request of Kadivar's family, in light of a much-publicised visit to Italy by Khatami set to begin on Tuesday.

The visit follows a 540 million dollar deal Iran signed with Italy's oil giant ENI earlier this month and the Islamic republic is anxious to present an image of stability to attract more foreign investment.

The official news agency IRNA reported Kadivar's family had feared the demonstrations could turn violent.

The Kadivar case has galvanized public attention here and some 200 journalists signed a petition saying his arrest was unconstitutional and an "offense" to Iran's writers and intellectuals, the radical newspaper Salam reported Sunday.

The streets of Tehran were plastered with thousands of pro-Kadivar posters on Saturday amid a widespread campaign expressing unhappiness with the Special Court for Clergy (SCC) that ordered his arrest.

The SCC, a hardline body which operates independently of the Iranian judicial system, has denounced the reformers' "vociferous campaign" against Kadivar's detention.

"Kadivar was not arrested for his opinions but for spreading false information and propaganda hostile to the regime," it said in a statement published in the press Saturday.


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