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The BBC's Jim Muir
"It is the first time an Iranian president has done better the second time around"
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Jahangir Behrouz, Echo of Iran newspaper
"I do not expect very big changes in the near future"
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The BBC's Roger Hardy
"They in the end had to vote for the man who symbolises reform"
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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 18:28 GMT 19:28 UK
Khatami victory soured by vigilantes
Khatami supporters celebrate
Young people celebrate in Tehran before the police moved in
The BBC's John Simpson and two of his colleagues were held by vigilantes in Tehran on Saturday night. They were covering a celebration by President Khatami's supporters.

During an angry altercation, one of the Ansar Hezbollah militants dug his finger into John Simpson's eye, narrowly missing the pupil with his fingernail.

The team was released after the intervention of the police. Here is John Simpson's report:

For President Mohammad Khatami, winning his second presidential election with 78% of the vote, humiliating his nine opponents, and gaining more votes than he received in 1997, may well turn out to be the easy part.

This must be the only country on earth where the police stop people celebrating the success of the government

Government official
The events of Saturday evening in central Tehran, after the result of Friday's election became clear, showed how difficult a path he now has to tread.

A crowd of several hundred, mostly young, people gathered in a park close to the television station in Val-I-Asr Avenue to celebrate the victory of the man who has campaigned on moderation and on widening the degree of personal freedom in Iran.

Within a couple of hours riot police were out in force to clear them out, and tear gas was used to disperse them.

'This must be the only country on earth,' commented a leading government official, 'where the police stop people celebrating the success of the government.'

The trouble is, President Khatami has not yet succeeded in defeating the hard-line forces of the country.

John Simpson
John Simpson and colleagues were forcibly arrested
The police, reinforced by an often violent and shadowy force known as 'The Soldiers of the Party of God' whose members support Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, were determined to stop the pro-Khatami celebrations turning into an anti-conservative demonstration.

The Soldiers, who form an elite secret police, mingled with the crowds, taking names, filming them with video cameras and using strong-arm tactics against foreign journalists who had come to observe the celebration. Three camera crews, including one from the BBC, were forcibly arrested, threatened, and held for several hours.

President Khatami and his allies in government have so far shown themselves unable to control hardline elements like this, which owe their allegiance to the earlier leaders of the Islamic Revolution.

In his second four-year term, he will have to control or disband groups like the Soldiers of the Party of God if the people who voted for him in such large numbers on Friday are not to lose their faith in him.

Greater personal freedom cannot be achieved while such organizations rule the streets.

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See also:

09 Jun 01 | Middle East
Khatami triumphs over conservatives
09 Jun 01 | Media reports
Iranian press assesses presidential poll
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
In pictures: Iran goes to the polls
01 Jun 01 | Middle East
Iran election: People and policies
08 Jun 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iran's political prisoners
09 Jun 01 | Middle East
Re-election could spark more crises
04 May 01 | Middle East
Guide: How Iran votes
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