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Friday, July 10, 1998 Published at 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK

Tehran mayor's trial attracts media spotlight

Mayor Karbaschi in the dock: Iranian TV has broadcast the proceedings

The trial of the suspended Mayor of Tehran, Gholam-Hossein Karbaschi, has become compulsive viewing for millions of Iranians.

It has also divided media opinion between those backing the reformist mayor and those who defend the conservative-dominated judiciary.

Mayor Karbaschi and the judge argue over Iranian law (in Persian)
The trial has become a test of President Mohammad Khatami's authority, highlighting conservative opposition to the reformist platform on which he was elected last August.

Mr Karbaschi, one of President Khatami's most prominent supporters, put up a vigorous defence during his last court appearance, angrily denying the corruption charges levelled against him.

Arrested in April, he faces charges of embezzlement, fraud and mismanagement of public funds.

Audience of millions

[ image: Mayor Karbaschi's sparring with the judge is watched by millions]
Mayor Karbaschi's sparring with the judge is watched by millions
Mr Karbaschi has been in the media spotlight, with state radio and television broadcasting the proceedings live, and millions of Iranians following each twist and turn in the drama.

His fourth court appearance was originally scheduled for June 21, but it was postponed because of intense interest in Iran's World Cup football match against the United States, which Iran won 2-1.

Iranian media have linked the trial with another high profile political controversy - President Khatami's backing for the Interior Minister Abdollah Nuri, who was impeached last week by the conservative-dominated parliament, or Majlis.

On Monday Mr Nuri told his former colleagues at the Interior Ministry that his impeachment had highlighted a split between those believing in "political development and the defence of people's rights and freedom" and those who "sought to censure these notions."

Meanwhile, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, also stepped into the fray, defending the conservative head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, as one of the country's bravest and most trustworthy theologians.

Press warning

Mayor Karbaschi defends himself (in Persian)
The English-language Tehran Times, which has avoided taking sides in the ideological struggle, warned that Iranian officials were in danger of giving a misleading impression to foreign observers by contradicting each other.

The paper said Iranian officials should "always think twice before talking and not spare room for misinterpretation by the foreign media, when referring to colleagues in other branches of the government".

The daily stressed that Iran was "passing through a very crucial period of history", and that its "economy, as President Khatami himself admitted, is sick".

`Act of revenge'

Mayor Karbaschi's first hearing (in Persian)
'Salam' and another reformist daily, 'Hamshahri,' argued that the Karbaschi trial was politically motivated and was an act of revenge for the conservatives' failure at the last elections. 'Salam' said the trial was "an assault against the people' s vote" - a reference to Mr Khatami's landmark election victory .

Meanwhile, conservative dailies, including 'Resalat' and 'Jomhuri-ye Eslami,' said it was the judiciary's prerogative to investigate mismanagement of public funds. 'Resalat' recently published an attack on the Iranian news agency IRNA, which has avoided bias in its reports on the court battle.

In the article, a Tehran deputy, Ali Movahhedi-Savoji, argued that IRNA "is not impartial and I believe that there are elements within the agency who are acting irresponsibly by filing inaccurate reports".

Another conservative daily, 'Kayhan' accused IRNA of "untimely dissemination of information" on the trial.

The radio and television meanwhile, though reporting on the trial extensively, have so far refrained from comment.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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