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Thursday, July 15, 1999 Published at 08:52 GMT 09:52 UK

World: Middle East

Analysis: Who's who in the Iran crisis

As Iran undergoes its most serious disturbances since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, BBC News Online looks at the key players in the country's political crisis:

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An unprecedented feature of the rallies by thousands of students in Tehran has been the appearance of slogans against Ayatollah Khamenei, who is officially portrayed as Iran's supreme, holy and infallible leader.

Iran crisis
Chosen by the conservative-dominated Assembly of Experts after Ayatollah Khomeini's death in June 1989, it is legally forbidden to criticise his actions and he is, in practice, accountable to nobody. He controls the judiciary and the state broadcaster, as well as the security and police forces, though he has granted nominal control of the police to Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari.

The students are demanding that Ayatollah Khamenei should be held accountable for violence by the security forces.

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Since he was elected in a landslide victory two years ago, the Iranian president has been promoting openness, human rights and democratic reforms.

With strong support among women, intellectuals and the young, President Khatami advocates what he calls a "civil society" - a kind of Islamic democracy. Mainstream conservatives who control most institutions have been placing legal and semi-legal obstacles in his path.

Their extremist allies have gone further, engaging in acts of violence, such as the killing of dissidents and attacks on political and student gatherings.

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Iran's students played a major role in overthrowing the monarchy in 1979 and again in bringing President Khatami to power in elections two years ago.

More than a million strong, and organised in several national unions, they have been a powerful force supporting Mr Khatami's reform programme. They have been quick to come out onto the streets to oppose hardliners, but have also become increasingly impatient with what they see as the slow pace of reform.

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The Special Clerical Court was responsible for the ban on the pro-Khatami 'Salam' newspaper which helped spark the recent demonstrations at Tehran University.

This court was set up by Ayatollah Khomeini soon after the 1979 revolution to try clergymen thought to be affiliated with the former regime. More recently, it has become an instrument for putting pressure on clerics who do not back the policies of Ayatollah Khamenei.

The head of the court, Gholamreza Mohseni-Ezhei, was appointed by Mr Khamenei in December 1998 and reports directly to him.

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Shadowy groups of Islamic extremists have been blamed for breaking up pro-Khatami gatherings and for physical attacks on well-known reformers.

These groups, of which Ansar-e Hezbollah is one of the better known, appear to operate with the tacit support of conservative, anti-Khatami political circles. They seem to have enjoyed legal immunity, with arrests or prosecutions against their members virtually unheard of.

"Hezbollahis" - the generic term for members of such groups - are thought to have been responsible - with support from some elements of the Law Enforcement Force - for the attack on the student dormitories at Tehran University. The arrest of the leaders of these groups is a key demand at student protests. Some students have also shouted slogans linking Ayatollah Khamenei to the militants.

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A supporter of President Khatami, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari arguably has more popular support than actual power. Although nominally in charge of the police, Mr Musavi-Lari says he did not order the recent storming of student dormitories.

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Following the fatal attack on students which triggered the current crisis, a central question has become who ultimately controls the security forces.

The Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is constitutionally the highest authority in the country and controls the security and police forces. Student protesters have called on him to explain the police violence.

Ayatollah Khamenei transferred control of the Law Enforcement Force - or police - to President Khatami's interior ministry last year, but the interior minister, however, refuses to take responsiblity for the attack.

Another high-profile figure in the security forces, intelligence chief Gholamreza Naqdi, has been linked with illegal activities against dissident groups and opposition figures.

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