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Iran bans street protests

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran on Monday banned street protests to mark the anniversary of a bloody raid by hard-liners on a university dormitory four years ago, in an attempt to prevent new clashes after a week of unrest in Tehran.

The anniversary commemorates a July 9, 1999 attack by police and pro-government militants on a Tehran University dorm that killed one person and injured at least 20 others.

That attack sparked the heaviest protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. shah. Last year, thousands of Iranians demonstrated to mark the anniversary despite a ban on protests, triggering clashes between marchers and anti-riot police and militants.

The anniversary comes around next month on the heels of new student demonstrations in mid-June against the rule of hard-line Islamic clerics.

Those marches were put down by police and militants who support Iran's hard-line supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Ten days ago, the militants raided university dormitories, beating up students in an attack reminiscent of the 1999 one.

"The government is opposed to any rally outside universities" to mark the anniversary, government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh told reporters. "Such gatherings will not happen at all."

In a bid to pacify angry students, the reformist-led government also demanded the judiciary -- which is dominated by hard-line clerics -- punish the militants behind the June 14 dormitories attack, which injured more than 50 students.

"Expectations of the public have not been met ... The government is still dissatisfied that those who attacked the students remain unpunished," he said.

Ramezanzadeh said the militants responsible for the dormitory raids have been identified and face prosecution, adding it was now up to the judiciary to put them on trial.

The militants, who often act to put down protests, are rarely punished for their crimes in Iran.

None of the police officers or vigilantes who stormed the dormitory in 1999 were punished, despite calls for putting them on trial.

In July 2000, a hard-line military court acquitted the Tehran police chief at the time, Brig. Gen. Farhad Nazari, and 17 other officers of charges of ordering the dormitory raid.

Student leaders held sit-ins Sunday to protest the detention of classmates following last week's clashes, in which police said 520 people, including 18 women and vigilantes, were arrested.

Along with opposition to the hard-line clerics -- who control the judiciary, police and unelected bodies that hold ultimate power in Iran -- many Iranians are dissatisfied with pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami. He has failed to deliver promised social, political and economic reforms because of hard-liner opposition.

The protests come as the United States steps up pressure against Iran over its nuclear program and alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.


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