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Tuesday, December 15, 1998 Published at 22:51 GMT

World: Middle East

Thousands attend writer's funeral in Iran

The mourners were asked to show restraint

Some 3,000 people have taken part in a funeral procession in the Iranian capital Tehran for the writer and poet Mohammed Mokhtari, who was killed last week.

Simon Shepherd reports
He was one of several dissident writers who have died recently under mysterious circumstances.

His coffin, covered in red flowers, was carried through crowds of relatives, friends, artists and writers, who joined the procession.

Shock and fear, Pam O'Toole reports
BBC Middle East Analyst Pam O'Toole says that the funeral was quiet compared to a similar event three weeks ago - before the deaths of five opposition figures spread shock and fear among Iran's liberal intellectuals.

One of Iran's best known writers, Mahmud Dowlatabadi, warned the mourners against turning the procession into a political rally, which he said could be misinterpreted in the current tense political atmosphere.

[ image: Five opposition figures have been killed recently]
Five opposition figures have been killed recently
Meanwhile, the European Union has called on Iran to guarantee the safety of writers and intellectuals. In a carefully-worded communiqué by the EU's Austrian Presidency, it said it was "concerned about recent signs of intimidation of writers and intellectuals".

Among the mourners at the funeral was the family of Mohammad Pouyandeh, a writer and translator who was found strangled last week.

Iranian newspapers said Mr Pouyandeh and Mr Mokhtari had planned to form a writer's association, but they were recently summoned to the justice ministry and informed their venture was illegal.

Hardliners suspected

Correspondents say the main suspects of the recent killings are hardliners opposed to Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

[ image: Mr Khatami: Under pressure to stop the violence]
Mr Khatami: Under pressure to stop the violence
President Khatami and his fellow moderates are engaged in a continuing power struggle with conservatives, who are widely regarded as having the sympathy of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ayatollah Khamenei has blamed foreign powers for the killings. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani described the deaths as "a plot by the enemies of the Islamic regime".

Judicial spokesman Fotowat Nassiri Savadkuhi told state television on Monday that Iranian security forces had arrested a number of people in connection with the murders. He said that as soon as they were arrested, they would be punished for their crimes.

He added that investigations would also cover the murder of the head of the Evin Prison, Asadollah Lajevardi, and others.

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