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The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran
"Saeed Hajjarian is immensely influential behind the scenes"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 23:48 GMT
Khatami: Shooting will 'unite people'
Police outside hospital
Police guard Mr Hajjarian's hospital
Iranian President Mohammed Khatami has condemned the shooting of a leading reformer as a desperate act by those who have lost the battle against progress.

Political activist and publisher Saeed Hajjarian is in a coma but said to be improving by his doctors.

He was described by the president as a servant of the people whose shooting will serve only to "unite the people".

"Assassination is the sinister method used by those who have lost any hope of being able to stop this nation's future-oriented move," he said in remarks broadcast by Tehran radio.

Early on Sunday, Mr Hajjarian was shot in the face by an unidentified gunman who escaped with an accomplice on a motorcycle in central Tehran.

Hajjarian
Hajjarian: Key strategist in President Khatami's election campaign
The bullet lodged in Mr Hajjarian's neck, and after being put on a life support machine, is now breathing for himself.

President Khatami called for every effort to catch those responsible for the shooting of Mr Hajjarian, who is a member of the Tehran city council, and managing director of the Sobh-e Emrouz daily newspaper.

'Act of revenge'

Prominent reformist politicians, clerics and intellectuals flocked to Mr Hajjarian's bedside on Sunday. The ministers of intelligence, interior and culture also went to the hospital to express their concern.

The interior ministry joined President Khatami in condemning the assassination attempt, saying it had been intended to "create crisis and tension" within Iranian society and to inhibit "the restoration of the rule of law", according to the IRNA news agency.

Wife
Jila Marsoosi, Mr Hajjarian's wife, waits to see her husband
The ministry said the attack was an act of revenge for the outcome of the country's recent elections, which were dominated by reformists allied to President Khatami.

IRNA said that the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and security forces had launched a massive manhunt to track down Mr Hajjarian's assailants.

The deputy commander of the LEF, Brigadier-General Mohsen Ansari said the LEF had taken eyewitness accounts of the incident, and a special investigation headquarters had been set up in Tehran.

Dozens of security checkpoints were erected across Tehran within hours of the shooting, and police were checking motorcycles and cars.

Key figure

A former hard-liner who took part in storming the United States Embassy in the 1979 revolution, Mr Hajjarian is now a key figure in the reformist Participation Party, set up to support President Khatami.

Last year, Mr Hajjarian was summoned to court by the Tehran Justice Department over an article in his newspaper that the public prosecutor said insulted Islam. He was released after being questioned.

During last month's legislative elections, Mr Hajjarian reportedly angered many of the losing hard-liners with what they considered provocative statements.

Correspondents say that since President Khatami's election in 1997, several leading reformists have been attacked by vigilantes believed to be allied with hard-liners.

Results cancelled

Earlier this weekend, three results from February's elections were cancelled without explanation by the central election body, the Council of Guardians.

The victories of reformist candidates in the southern cities of Bandar Abbas, Minab and Gachsaran were declared invalid.

But the head of the interior ministry's election department said the council had failed to provide any documents or evidence to justify the step.

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See also:

12 Mar 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Who wanted Hajjarian dead?
11 Mar 00 | Middle East
Reformist victories cancelled in Iran
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
22 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran vote welcomed
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