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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 16:20 GMT 17:20 UK
Tehran students rally for reform
Pro-Khatami rally
Students criticised President Khatami's predecessor
By Jim Muir in Tehran

Several thousand students have demonstrated on the streets of Tehran in support of the reformist President Mohammad Khatami and in protest at the recent crackdown on the reformist press and liberal figures.

It was the first street demonstration in the Iranian capital for many months.

The authorities had refused permission for the demonstration and there were riot police standing by, but the crowd dispersed peacefully.

President Khatami
Khatami 's supporters will dominate parliament
The rally was called by the biggest student organisation to mark the third anniversary of President Khatami's landslide election.

But most of the slogans chanted by the thousands of students who joined the gathering were bitterly hostile to Mr Khatami's predecessor, Hashemi Rafsanjani.

He is in the headlines again now because the right-wing Council of Guardians recently amended some of the returns from February's general elections.

Consequently, Mr Rafsanjani shot up the results ladder, assuring him of a place in the next parliament and possibly enhancing his chances of becoming Speaker for the third time.

Riot police

The student rally began on the campus of Tehran University, where no permission is needed for the students to gather - but after the speeches were over, hundreds of people poured out into the streets and marched up to the nearby Revolution Square.

A large squad of riot police with shields, helmets and batons were drawn up in formation and the police called on the demonstrators to disperse.

The demonstrators got the message; the crowd gradually broke up. So Tehran's first major street demonstration since the riots of last July passed off peacefully with restraint on both sides.

Khatami speaks

Earlier President Mohammad Khatami called for the rights and freedoms of all the country's citizens to be preserved.

In an address to the head of local councils, he laid out the principles of tolerance and freedom which have won him and his followers the support of the bulk of the Iranian people.

These principles have come under fierce counter-attack since the reformist election victory in February.

It was the vote of the people, Mr Khatami said, that was the determining factor in the Islamic republic.

The people had risen up against the Shah's regime because it was oppressive and unjust.

This was as close as Mr Khatami has come to criticising publicly the mass closure of reformist newspapers summarily ordered by the largely conservative judiciary in recent weeks.

Liberal journalists and other figures have also been prosecuted and jailed.

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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
20 Apr 00 | Middle East
Court summons for Iranian reformists
24 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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