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Tuesday, 25 April, 2000, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Hardliners turn up heat on Khatami

Students read the reformist paper Moshareket
By Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba

This new campaign against the pro-reform press is unprecedented in the 21-year history of the Islamic Republic.

The relative freedom of the press has been the most visible achievement of President Mohammad Khatami's government in the past three years.



President Khatami has introduced relative press freedome
It appears that the main reason behind this campaign is the crucial role the press played in the victory of reformists in the parliamentary elections two months ago.

The closure of 13 newspapers and periodicals is also seen as a direct challenge to Mr Khatami's reform policies.

But his response to this campaign has been careful.

New parliament

In a speech marking Armed Forces day on Monday, Mr Khatami said Iran today needed calm and solidarity more than ever.

He was speaking only a few hours after the closure of the pro-reform newspapers was announced by the Tehran justice department.

He made no direct mention of the closures, but emphasised that tranquillity in the country must be maintained as the new reformist-dominated parliament is scheduled to open next month.

Other reformists have also appealed for calm.

Stability

The managing directors of 11 pro-reform daily newspapers, many of them now suspended, called on the Iranian people to keep vigilant against any act by what they described as supporters of violence who seek to disturb social calm and security.

They said they would defend their rights only through legal means.

A left-wing pro-Khatami group warned that the main objective of this new campaign was to destabilise the government.

But this group also called on the people to remain calm and avoid what it termed any irrational action.

Reformists fear that the campaign against the press is part of a bigger conservative plan to disrupt the opening of the new parliament and thwart Mr Khatami's liberal reforms.

Conservative campaign

It appears that their response at this stage is to give no excuse to hardliners to achieve their aim.

There are many reformist circles, especially among student groups, who expect Mr Khatami to stand up to conservative pressures.

But the general feeling among reformists is that there should be no resort to non-peaceful and illegal means.

But if conservatives continue their campaign against Mr Khatami's liberal reforms and if they especially postpone the opening of the new parliament, Mr Khatami would be in a difficult position.

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See also:

24 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran's liberal press muzzled
23 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran arrests another journalist
22 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformist journalist arrested
20 Apr 00 | Middle East
Court summons for Iranian reformists
23 Feb 00 | Middle East
Iran's unique election
22 Feb 00 | Middle East
Reformers promise freedoms
21 Feb 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Obstacles to change
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