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Friday, July 23, 1999 Published at 22:04 GMT 23:04 UK

World: Middle East

Guards chief backs Khatami

Iran's Revolutionary Guards are seen as the custodians of the Islamic revolution

The head of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, Rahim Safavi, has reaffirmed official support for President Mohammad Khatami, following controversial criticism of him by a group of the guards commanders.

Iran crisis
The hardline general said that the guards had "always supported the president and will not tolerate attempts to weaken or insult him".

His endorsement comes four days after the publication in the Iranian press of a letter from 24 senior Revolutionary Guards commanders who accused the president of leading the Islamic Republic into "anarchy".

BBC's Jim Muir: The president was clearly angered by the criticism
Correspondents say the highly political criticism was probably approved by General Safafi, although he himself did not sign the letter.

Referring to the letter, General Safavi said the well equipped Revolutionary Guards, who are under the command of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, are responsible for supporting the president "as a pillar of the present political system in Iran".

[ image: General Safavi: A hardline general viewed with suspicion by reformers]
General Safavi: A hardline general viewed with suspicion by reformers
BBC Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir says the original message of dissatisfaction from the commanders was seen by supporters of President Khatami as a warning of the possibility of some kind of intervention or coup.

He added that it is probable that General Safavi's message of support has come as a result of some behind the scenes lobbying.

Student accusations

Pro-democracy student leaders in Iran have accused security forces of beating and torturing members who were arrested during last week's protests.

They have also accused the forces of maintaining the wave of arrests in the capital Tehran.

[ image: Students say members signed confessions while blindfolded]
Students say members signed confessions while blindfolded
Pro-democracy leaders have called on senior officials to intervene in the ongoing crisis.

The authorities say most of the 1,400 people who were arrested have been freed.

But the Council for Student Protesters, a student committee set up after the incidents, said that some of its own members, as well as other students, were still being detained.

'Illegal arrests'

The council said the arrests were illegal and that those held were subjected to prolonged interrogations and beatings, before being forced to sign false confessions.

"Some people have been arrested merely for being students. After being interrogated for hours, they were beaten and forced to sign confessions blindfolded," the group said in a statement published in the Hamshahri daily, seen on the Internet in Dubai.

The group added that seven of its own members and students belonging to other university organisations were missing and believed held by security forces.

Iranian hardliners have recently stepped up a campaign against liberal newspapers which have flourished under the moderate reformist president.

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