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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 21:51 GMT 22:51 UK

World: Middle East

Iran hardliners target Khatami ally

Mr Nouri (left) met fellow reformer Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, who was on leave from prison last week

By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

A close reformist ally of the Iranian President, Mohammad Khatami, has been charged with insulting leaders of the Islamic Republic and publishing anti-Islamic material in his newspaper.

Iran crisis
A special clerical court has ordered Abdollah Nouri to answer the charges next week.

Mr Nouri, a former interior minister, has angered conservatives by supporting reforms in his daily paper, Khordad.

The charges against Mr Nouri are so varied and serious that if proved in court he will be in real trouble. The prosecutor has prepared a 45-page document detailing the charges.

Mr Nouri, who is a cleric himself, is accused of insulting Islamic sanctities.

Other charges include publishing lies with the intention of disturbing public opinion, propaganda activity against the Islamic system and opposing the ideas of the late Ayatollah Khomeini.

He is also accused of supporting a leading dissident cleric, Ayatollah Hussai-Ali Montazeri, and promoting a rapprochement with the United States and the recognition of Israel - Iran's two arch-enemies.

Election battleground

If Mr Nouri is convicted next week, his newspaper, Khordad, could be closed down and he himself may face punishment.

Mr Nouri was sacked as interior minister last year by the conservative-controlled parliament for his defence of political and social freedoms.

He recently resigned as the leader of Tehran's city council to stand for next February's crucial general elections.

He was widely tipped as the reformists' choice for parliamentary speaker if they win the elections.

Reformists fear that conservatives are trying to convict Mr Nouri of insulting Islam in order to disqualify him from the polls.

In the past few months, several liberal papers have been closed down. It appears that in the run-up to the elections, power struggle may intensify in the Islamic Republic.

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