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Thursday, 9 April, 1998, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Mayor crisis tears Iran
Iranian leaders
The supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has intervened in an attempt to defuse the continuing political crisis caused by the arrest of the mayor of Tehran, Gholam-Hussain Karbaschi, on corruption charges. He summoned the country's top leaders for emergency talks and asked them to settle their differences over the issue. Mr Karbaschi, who is a key reformist ally of President Khatami, was recently arrested by the conservative-dominated judiciary as part of investigations into alleged embezzlement in Tehran's municipality, which he has dismissed as politically motivated. The BBC's Iranian affairs reporter, Sadeq Saba, considers the significance of the intervention and its possible consequences:

Ayatollah Khamenei's direct intervention to try to resolve the political crisis caused by the arrest of the popular mayor of Tehran indicates that he felt that the situation was getting out of control.

Those attending the late-night emergency talks included President Khatami, the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Yazdi, the speaker of parliament, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri and the former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who now heads the Expediency Council, the highest advisory body in Iran.

President Khatami's categorical support for Mr Karbaschi and his government's declaration that it still regards him as the mayor put the cabinet at loggerheads with the judiciary.

Supporters of the mayor continued to insist that the case was politically motivated and the real intention of the judiciary was to undermine the government of Mr Khatami. There were even calls for the Iranian people to take to the streets to express their support for the government.

Ayatollah Khamenei ordered President Khatami and Ayatollah Yazdi to submit a full report on the controversial arrest immediately, and urged them to observe the laws of the nation and justice. The heads of the three branches of the state were also asked to meet shortly and try to resolve the crisis.

No details are available about the talks, but it appears that Ayatollah Khamenei's intervention will please the supporters of Mr Karbaschi who were insisting all along that his case was a political issue.

The fact that the Ayatollah has now asked the top officials to resolve the issue collectively is a setback for the judiciary.

Ayatollah Khamenei's intervention may temporarily defuse the escalating crisis which has threatened the Islamic Republic.

One face-saving formula can be to release Mr Karbaschi after a few days. In that case both factions could claim half-victory; the conservatives by saying that they managed to humiliate Mr Karbaschi and the moderates by arguing that it was their pressure which forced his release.

But it appears the basic contradictions between the two factions will continue, especially after so much open feuding in the last few days.

If Mr Karbaschi is released in the near furture, the authority of the judiciary chief, Ayatollah Yazdi, who has been personally involved in the campaign against the mayor, will become untenable. And it will be another major victory for President Khatami.

See also:

09 Apr 98 | Middle East
Tehran mayor gains high-level support
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