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Dozens arrested, wounded in Iran clashes over reform student meeting

TEHRAN, Aug 27 (AFP) - Dozens of people were injured in violent clashes between reform supporters of President Mohammad Khatami and Islamic hardliners in the Iranian city of Khoramabad, press reports said on Sunday. See photo

The unrest followed days of protests after two prominent progressives were blocked last week from addressing a conference of a leading pro-reform student group holding its annual meeting in the city.

Rioters smashed up banks and police cars, started fires and attacked government buildings on Saturday in a violent protest put down with the help of the volunteer Islamic militia, the conservative Kayhan paper said.

Twenty demonstrators and 20 policemen were injured in the disturbances, some badly enough to be hospitalised, and 20 people were arrested, the paper said.

The pro-reform Hayate-No newspaper reported that the violence began on Thursday when Mohsen Kadivar and Abdol Karim Soroush, often vocal critics of the clerical regime, ran into trouble on arrival in Khoramabad.

Kadivar, who recently finished an 18-month prison term, told the paper that angry protesters blocked them from entering cars at the airport to take them to the conference of the Office to Consolidate Unity (OCU).

He said angry militants wielding clubs and chains smashed windows at Khoramabad airport and eventually scaled the gates and ran onto the runway, while others called for the deaths of the two men, the paper reported.

The pair were prevented from addressing the conference and ended up being held several hours at the airport for their own security before being sent back to Tehran by car.

Hayate-No meanwhile said that several other people were also injured in Saturday's unrest when vigilantes attacked a tour bus carrying student sightseers.

One of the students was unconscious for several hours after the attack, the paper said.

Kadivar has openly questioned the constitutional principle of Veliyat-e Faqih, under which final say on all matters of state rests in the hands of the nation's supreme religious leader -- currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Souroush is well known for his writings calling for a more liberal Islamic society.

The largest pro-Khatami party -- the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), headed by the president's brother Mohammad-Reza -- appealed for calm in a statement carried by the official IRNA news agency.

"The recent incidents in Khoramabad reveal that the government does not possess sufficient means to carry out its duties, including ensuring security," it said.

It accused hardline vigilantes of inciting unrest in order to "create an atmosphere of pessimism and hopelessness regarding reform and the supremacy of law in society."

Tehran MP Ali Shakuri-Rad, an IIPF member who sits on parliament's governing commitee, condemned the interruption to the student meeting in the city.

He accused "wayward groups" of staging the unrest to forward "their own political agenda (and) bamboozle others into taking such actions," IRNA reported.


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