- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

TEHRAN Iran's militant hard-liners stepped up their assault on a compliant reform movement yesterday, closing one of the last two pro-reform newspapers and sending thousands of militants to demonstrate in front of parliament.

Emboldened by support from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the hard-liners called for the blood of a reformist legislator who had dared to question the ayatollah's action Sunday to block consideration of a new law increasing press freedom.

The law was to have been the centerpiece on the legislative agenda of the reformers, who won control of the parliament, or Majlis, in elections in February.

"Traitor Rashidian must be executed," the protesters yelled in reference to Mohammed Rashidian, a reform-minded legislator who was heard on national radio Sunday suggesting that Ayatollah Khamenei's ban on debate was not in accordance with Islamic law.

"The blood in our veins is a gift to the leader. Our eyes are a gift to the leader," they chanted, many holding portraits of Ayatollah Khamenei and the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The outburst, coupled with the closing of the largest remaining pro-reform newspaper, reflected rising tensions between the hard-line supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei and the reform forces championed by President Mohammed Khatami.

Seeking to blunt Mr. Khatami's cautious moves toward better relations with the United States, the hard-liners have made anti-Americanism an important part of their rhetoric.

"We see the hidden hand of America. Our most important saying is 'Down with America,' " said one of the protesters, a 25-year-old political science student.

"Why do you Americans want us to exercise your democracy?" he continued in hostile tones. "Why not let us have our Islamic democracy. You only see the world through your own lens."

The reform legislators, who returned to the Majlis yesterday for the first time since Sunday's setback, went about routine business with little mention of the press law in an apparent bow to the authority of the religious leader.

"We are aware [that the hard-liners] wanted demonstrations and wanted to take advantage" of the ayatollah's ruling, said the president's pro-reform brother, Mohammed Reza Khatami in remarks published yesterday.

Mr. Khatami, a publisher whose own newspaper was closed by authorities last month, suggested the reform forces should avoid a confrontation that would provide an excuse for arrests or even the dissolution of parliament.

"Reform is a long-term project," he said.

The comments appeared in the newspaper Bahar, which yesterday became the 24th newspaper to be closed since March under a strict law imposed by the outgoing parliament.

Dozens of journalists have been arrested as well. Two more were summoned to court yesterday including Hamid Reza Jalaipour, the publisher of six closed pro-reform papers, who was released after questioning.

Bahar, published by Mr. Khatami's press aide, Saeed Pourazizi, had had brushes with the Press Court before but managed to survive until now by toning down its coverage and commentary.

State radio said the paper was banned in part because of a "fake interview" with parliamentary deputy Ahmad Pournejati, in which he was quoted as saying the reformists would seek a way to reintroduce the press bill.

The conservative Kayhan newspaper had quoted Mr. Pournejati as denying the comments and proclaiming the press bill dead. Bahar stood by its story.

While for the most part maintaining a public silence, the reformers have been meeting behind closed doors since Sunday to discuss ways of pursuing the non-confrontational, long-term evolution of reforms.

While the hard-liners are able to fill the streets with protesters and control the courts and police, the reformers have broad support for their policies and believe they will ultimately prevail.

The closure of Bahar left the 300,000-circulation newspaper Hayat-e-No as the only means for the reform group to get its ideas out, aside from the widely listened-to U.S.-run Radio Free Iran, the BBC, Voice of America and Radio Israel all of which operate Farsi-language broadcasts.

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