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Tuesday, July 27, 1999 Published at 21:38 GMT 22:38 UK

World: Middle East

Khatami slams Iran riots

The unrest was the worst in 20 years

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has described the street riots two weeks ago as a declaration of war against himself and his political reforms.

Iran crisis
Mr Khatami, making his first public appearance since the protests, said progress and freedom could only continue on the basis of peace and security.

But he also fiercely criticised the attack on a Tehran University student dormitory by riot police, which set off the unrest - the worst since the 1979 revolution.

The BBC's Jim Muir: The president was outspoken about the police raid
He said the students were in the vanguard of support for his reform programme, so repressing them was also tantamount to attacking his policies.

Mr Khatami was addressing a stadium packed with thousands of supporters in Hamadan, 300 kilometres south-west of Tehran.

[ image:  ]
''I reiterate my promise to you ... to protect civic freedoms and the legitimate rights of the nation," he said.

"I have made a covenant with the nation to move with you towards justice.''

BBC Correspondent Jim Muir who is in Hamadan said the visit generated great excitement.

Local mosques, factories and offices were decked with banners and posters. And supporters chanted slogans of support and waved pictures of Mr Khatami along with Iranian flags and flowers.

National security

Mr Khatami's vision of a government, which is both Islamic and republican, has set him at loggerheads with the conservative clerical establishment since his election in May 1997.

[ image: President Khatami: National security cannot be toyed with]
President Khatami: National security cannot be toyed with
But he said the Iranian people remained on his side.

"They try to say religion and freedom do not mix and say that the universities are a danger to Islam and the revolution,'' he told supporters.

''They are striving to say that security and freedom do not mix and that in order to establish security, freedoms must be crushed. But the nation will not be fooled."

However he said anyone who tried to disrupt the country's national security had to be foiled.

''National security cannot be toyed around with lightly and nonchalantly. We must consider security as the foundation stone for development, progress, construction, freedom and independence,'' he said.

Pulling together

While Mr Khatami was visiting Hamadan, the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was receiving some of the students injured in the police raid on the dormitory.

[ image:  ]
Iranian television broadcast footage showing Ayatollah Khamenei embracing and kissing the students, some of whom had bandages covering their eyes.

He led the students in prayer before discussing the protests, which left three people dead and more than 200 injured.

The Ayatollah is normally regarded as closer to the right-wing in Iranian clerical politics.

But our correspondent says he and Mr Khatami are publicly pulling together in the aftermath of the violent disturbances.

However, political tensions between the reformists and hardline factions are continuing to rise in the run-up to crucial parliamentary elections early next year.

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