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Wednesday, 17 July, 2002, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Iran's reformists warn of dictatorship
Tehran street scene
Nothing can prevent change in Iran, reformers say

The biggest of the reform factions in Iran, the Participation Front, has begun its annual party conference in the capital, Tehran, amidst growing impatience over the blocking of reforms by an entrenched hard-line minority.

Massive election victories have given the reform movement control of both the presidency and parliament, but their efforts to bring about change have been largely blocked by unelected bodies controlled by the hardliners.

Saeed Hajjarian in a photograph from 2000
Hajjarian: Symbol of the reform movement
One of the reform movement's top strategists, Saeed Hajjarian, was greeted by applause at the conference.

With the help of a walking frame, he had managed to struggle up onto the stage to make the opening address, although his voice is distorted and hard to understand.

That is because he was shot in the head and very nearly killed by a right-wing extremist two years ago.

The man convicted for shooting him, Saeed Asgar, was originally sentenced to 15 years in jail, but he is already back on the streets.

He has returned to university in south Tehran and he is being allowed to publish a magazine.

Election challenge

For many scandalised reformists, those facts symbolise the way power works in Iran today and the problems facing the reform movement.

Secretary-General of the IIPF Mohamed Reza Khatami - brother of President Khatami
Reformers want change through dialogue (AFP)
The head of the Participation Front, Mohammed Reza Khatami, asked: "How can we hold our heads up in the international community when we have a judiciary which allows convicted terrorists to roam the streets, while it locks up journalists and thinkers for expressing their ideas?"

He expressed concern about what he called a trend towards dictatorship in the country and said that unelected bodies were using their power on a factional basis to block the expressed wishes of the people.

By doing this, he said, they risked widening the gap between rulers and public and bringing the legitimacy of the regime into question.

With general elections just 18 months away and already looming large, time may be starting to run out for the reformists.

Some are already advocating that they should pull out of government and leave the conservative minority to its own devices.

Mohammed Reza Khatami said that would be a decision for the reform movement as a whole, not just the Participation Front.

He argued that the best course was still dialogue and persuasion. He took heart from the belief that even if the reform movement were blocked in the political arena, nothing could prevent changes taking place in Iranian society.



See also:

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