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Sunday, 24 November, 2002, 14:29 GMT
Iran hardliners stage show of strength
Iranian Islamic militiamen
The militia denounced the students as 'hypocrites'
Some 15,000 hardline Islamic militiamen have been protesting in the Iranian capital in a show of strength in which they denounced students who have been demanding political reform.

The students must be very vigilant in order to avoid a violent reaction from hardliners

Said Hajarian
Reformist politician
Earlier the students abandoned plans for further rallies to demand the lifting of the death sentence against a liberal academic, Hashem Aghajari.

The students protests have been condemned by the country's supreme leader, the conservative Ayatollah Khamenei, who has asked the judiciary to review the case.

In a further sign of Iran's simmering political tensions, a group of Iranian journalists has called on the country's conservative judiciary to stop interfering in politics.

'Take shame'

Basij demonstrators
There were about 2,000 women in the Basij demonstration
The 15,000 militia members, known as the Basijis, held their rally outside the building that was the American embassy in Tehran until it was stormed by militant students in 1979.

While denouncing the traditional enemies Israel and the US, the Basijis, including some 2,000 women, vented their anger on Iran's reformist student movement.

"Hypocrites, hypocrites, take shame and leave the university," they chanted.

The pro-reform students at Tehran university have, in recent days, been engaged in the biggest protests Iran has seen for three years.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mohammed Khatami
Leader: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Power: The real power in Iran. Controls the hard-line Guardians Council, which approves all laws, the judiciary and armed forces
Where they stand: Committed to Islamic revolution. Opposed to any reduction in their powers and normalisation of relations with the US

Leader: President Mohammed Khatami
Power: Control the parliament and enjoy widespread popular support
Where they stand:
Back greater democracy, reducing the power of the Guardians Council, and reform to the legal system

They began after academic Hashem Aghajari was sentenced to death for apostasy - the renunciation of his faith.

He was arrested in August after a speech in which he called for reform within the Islamic clerical establishment.

Now the students have decided to call off their protests which were condemned last Friday by spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Reformist politicians have also urged the students to keep off the streets.

"The students must be very vigilant in order to avoid a violent reaction from hardliners," Said Hajarian, of the Islamic Iran Participation Front told journalists on Sunday.

"They should organise gatherings around tables and avoid going out onto the streets, because certain people are ready to declare the country to be in a state of emergency."

Poll 'espionage'

In an open letter addressed to the people of Iran, 134 journalists called for the release of four prominent men they describe as "political detainees."

The four include Mr Aghajari and three journalists .

The journalists' letter criticises "the judicial establishment's interference in political and factional affairs".

And the writers argue that judges are now widening the use of their powers to interfere in educational and research centres.

The letter names three journalists who it says should be released - Abbas Abdi, Behruz Geranpayeh and Hoseyn Qazian.

They were accused of spying after the publication of a poll indicating that 75% of Iranians favoured resuming dialogue with the United States.

Looming confrontation

Many other reformists have been imprisoned in trials that reformers regard as unconstitutional.

Earlier this month parliament approved a bill that would give Iran's reformist President, Mohammed Khatami, the right to suspend judicial rulings. A draft bill approved by parliament on 10 November would allow him to suspend such verdicts.

Another draft bill would curb the powers of the Guardians' Council, a conservative body that oversees - and can block - legislation.

However, correspondents say the Guardians' Council is unlikely to approve bills which would limit its own power.

In that case, a political crisis is widely expected to ensue.

The BBC's Miranda Eeles
"Hashem Aghajari has refused to appeal saying he is ready to die"
See also:

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