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BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"Mr Khatami struggled to make himself heard over the deafening din"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 December, 1999, 12:44 GMT
Khatami stirs student passions

Summer demonstrations showed the strength of reformist will

Iranian President Muhammad Khatami has told a noisy gathering of several thousand Tehran students they have a major role to play in bringing about reform and political development.

Iran crisis
President Khatami was making his first public speech since one of his closest associates, the former Interior Minister, Abdollah Nouri, was sentenced to five years imprisonment by a special clerical court.

Mr Khatami also urged the gathering in a packed basketball stadium at the University of Science and Technology to be patient, peaceful and to work for political reforms by participating in the forthcoming general elections, to be held in February.

"We are seeking a system based on the will and demand of the people," he said.

We are seeking independence, freedom and a civil society
President Khatami
In July, students clashed with security forces on Tehran's streets in several days of rioting, which was widely seen as damaging to the reformist cause.

Our correspondent in Tehran, Jim Muir, says many students were hoping to hear strong words from the President following the jailing of Mr Nouri for spreading anti-Islamic propaganda.

Tehran rioters Rioters were labelled provocateurs and counter-revolutionaries
But Mr Khatami did not directly address the issue, only responding to a direct question by saying the fact that people could stand up in court, as Mr Nouri had done, and argue their case loudly in public, represented a big change.

The president also addressed relations with the US, saying a "high wall of mistrust" existed because of US "domination" of the country for 26 years until the Islamic revolution in 1979.

But he said remarks made by US President Bill Clinton earlier this year that Iran had taken "quite a lot of abuse from various Western countries" were "an important confession", although such words needed to be backed up by concrete changes in policy toward Tehran.

Election registration

The speech came as registration of candidates was getting under way for general elections that are expected to be a significant test of the reform programme instigated by Mr Khatami.

Reformists are hoping to win control of the Majlis, or parliament, from the conservatives who currently predominate - but the outcome remains highly uncertain.

In past elections, many moderates did not even make it through the selection process, which reformists say is controlled by hardliners.

Abdollah Nouri: Khatami spearhead in past elections
Our correspondent says it is looking increasingly unlikely that Mr Nouri, who led moderates to victory in the Islamic Republic's first municipal election last February, will be able to stand.

Qualification hurdle

Candidates have one week to register, and Mr Nouri's lawyer still hopes to have him released in time to register - but the court has turned down the request.

Officially, the campaign begins only nine days before the vote, but there will be the long process of scrutinising prospective candidates, disqualifications and appeals.

The outcome of this process is likely to be hotly disputed, if previous elections are any guide.

In the past, many moderate candidates have been weeded out without any reason being given but, under a new election law, candidates who have been disqualified can demand a written explanation.

Reformers are expected to put forward as many candidates as they can field, in the hope of increasing their chances of getting their supporters through the selection procedure.

It is widely believed that if the vetting procedures were less rigid, the reformists would win a majority in the new parliament.

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See also:
11 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Banned Iranian newspaper is reborn
06 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Students protest against jailing of reformist
30 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Where now for Iran's reformists?
07 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Iranian court allows Nouri appeal
27 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Profile of Abdollah Nouri
01 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Khatami urges free media
15 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Student power in Iran
16 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Iran's divided society
12 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Renewed clashes in Tehran

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