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Sunday, 20 August, 2000, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Iran police face campus ban
Student protests after the police raided a student hostel, killing one person, in July 1999
Last year's riots were the biggest since the revolution
By Jim Muir in Tehran

The Iranian parliament - dominated by reformists since their victory in general elections earlier this year - has approved the broad lines of a bill which would ban armed forces and the police from entering university premises.

The bill stemmed from an incident at Tehran University last year, which triggered several days of street riots.

But it may run into trouble with the Council of Guardians, a conservative body which vets legislation.

The development comes amid a heated debate over the role and powers of the parliament, which the reformists hope to use as a major vehicle for change.

Violent disturbances

The bill to ban armed police from entering universities was drawn up by the reformist faction last year after riot police stormed a Teheran University dormitory, causing widespread damage and injuries, and setting off several days of violent disturbances.

Pro-democracy protests in Tehran in July 1999
There were running street battles during the student riots last year
The bill was turned down by the outgoing parliament at that time; it was dominated by conservatives.

But now, it has been revived by the new reformist-led chamber.

A sizeable majority of its members voted to approve the motion in principle, although there may be some amendments to detail.

The new legislation would make it illegal for law enforcement forces to enter universities or other institutes of higher learning, except in emergencies and with ministerial permission.

Deputies from the right-wing minority faction argued strongly against the bill.

Council of Guardians

One leading opponent warned that it would collide with the Council of Guardians - the constitutional body which has to approve all legislation.

This is dominated by hardline conservatives. Its secretary-general, Ayatollah Ali Jannati, in his sermon at Friday prayers this week, warned members of parliament that their powers were limited and they were not free to do anything they wanted.

So this new bill could provide another test case for the powers of the new parliament.

The reformists were badly shaken earlier this month when the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose word is final, intervened to stop them debating amendments to the press law.

They had made it their top priority to reverse legislation under which more than 20 reformist publications have been summarily closed down and many liberal journalists arrested in the past few months alone.

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See also:

05 Aug 00 | Middle East
Iranian reformer arrested
15 Jul 99 | Middle East
Iran unrest 'under control'
12 Jul 99 | Middle East
Picture gallery: Anger in Tehran
11 Jul 99 | Middle East
Police heads roll in Tehran
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