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Sunday, May 23, 1999 Published at 11:38 GMT 12:38 UK

World: Middle East

Khatami: 'Iran at key stage'

The message from President Khatami: "Iran is heading towards an Islamic democracy".

The reformist Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami has said that the country is at a key phase in the transition towards what he described as an Islamic democracy.

He was addressing a crowd of tens of thousands councillors in Tehran as his supporters marked the second anniversary of his surprise landslide election victory.

The BBC's Jim Muir: "Limited achievements in last two years"
In his speech, which was broadcast on Iranian television, Mr Khatami said differences of opinion should exist in society, and it was the duty and the skill of the government to consolidate such differences of opinion and allow them to flourish.

"No one should hide behind the principles of the 1979 revolution, or use them as a cover for ousting political rivals," he said.

Defend freedom

But the president warned against using freedom to spread anarchy and chaos, saying people should do their best to defend freedom, because it was compatible with Islam.

The sweeping success of Mr Khatami's supporters in recent local elections is widely seen as having paved the way for reformists to eventually win control of parliament, which is currently dominated by conservative elements.

But the BBC Middle East correspondent says the struggle between the two camps is still far from over, and the contest is expected to intensify in the coming months.

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