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Cartoon from America's past resurfaces in battles over Iran's future

By BRIAN MURPHY, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran (January 12, 2003) - Protesters in bloodstained shrouds clog streets in Iran's holy city. A popular newspaper is closed and key staff arrested. The brother of Iran's supreme leader chokes back tears in parliament. See photos (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Call it the cartoon crisis.

A torrent of outrage from Muslim hard-liners increased Sunday over a most unexpected provocation: a 66-year-old American political cartoon about a Depression era power struggle.

The drawing, published last week in the now-closed Hayat-e-Nou newspaper, showed a Supreme Court justice being humbled under a giant thumb representing then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Iranian conservatives saw something closer to home.

They felt the white-bearded judge in the cartoon resembled the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. It was considered a stinging insult to his memory.

But the domino-style fallout cuts far deeper than just one old sketch. It displays the wildly unpredictable nature of Iranian politics at a time when conservatives feel threatened from all sides.

"This is just an excuse to make a show of force ... and create tension," said a pro-reform lawmaker, Mohammad Naimipour. "This is not natural."

Hard-liners were equally emphatic.

"We announce our disgust and hatred toward this abominable move ... our nation is united to expel all infiltrators and stooges," said a statement issued following a protest march Sunday in Qom, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Tehran and the center for Islamic study in Iran.

Some of the nearly 5,000 marchers wore blood-soaked shrouds and carried black flags as a traditional sign of mourning. They also denounced political reformers as traitors.

The newspaper was ordered closed indefinitely Saturday. Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said three employees involved in publishing the cartoon have been arrested.

In Tehran, the newspaper's chief editor -- and brother of Khomeini's successor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- struggled to hold back tears as he addressed fellow parliamentarians in a session broadcast live on Tehran Radio.

"No one loves Imam Khomeini more than me," said Hadi Khamenei. But he and his older brother are on opposite sides in the battles over Iran's future

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