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Wednesday, May 19, 1999 Published at 17:40 GMT 18:40 UK

World: Middle East

Ayatollah squares up to satellite dishes

Satellite dishes have been banned in Iran for five years

Iran's supreme leader has opposed relaxing a ban on satellite TV in an apparent warning to the country's moderates.

In a meeting with Iranian publishers, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei came out firmly in support of the current ban, despite proposals from the moderate President Khatami's government for a relaxation of the rules.

Satellite TV was banned five years ago in Iran for everyone except some state and media offices, blamed by clerics for spreading "corrupt" Western culture.

The BBC's Pam O'Toole reports: "Cultural onslaught from Iran's enemies"
But thousands of people watch foreign stations using dish antennae hidden on their rooftops.

Ayatollah Khamenei maintained that easing the ban would be tantamount to dissipation.

"It would not be logical for us to ease legal barriers now because satellite technology is heading for progress," he said.

"That would amount to surrender - we should instead identify and use ways of blocking the infiltration of satellites as technology advances," he added.

He urged government departments, including the Ministry for Culture and Islamic Guidance which is responsible for Iran's media and arts, to uphold Islamic principles.

[ image: Ayatollah Khamenei:
Ayatollah Khamenei: "To relax ban would mean surrender"
The Supreme Leader's words appear to represent a challenge to President Khatami's moderate faction, which has helped Iranian arts and media become much more liberal in the past two years.

Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ata'ollah Mohajerani has said the government is thinking of allowing ordinary citizens to watch satellite TV.

It is not clear why Ayatollah Khamenei has decided to confront the moderates on this issue at this time, says BBC Correspondent Pam O'Toole.

He appears to be out of step with most of the Iranian establishment which believes Iran must be more flexible towards satellite channels and the Internet to keep pace with the rest of the world, our correspondent says.

His words suggest that the conservatives may be preparing for a fight.

The satellite issue could become the latest focus for the ongoing power struggle between Iran's moderates and conservatives.

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