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Iran hardliners, students clash

Tehran, Nov. 18 (Reuters): Hundreds of Iranian hardliners clashed with pro-reform students at a demonstration today, the first serious outbreak of violence in 10 days of university protests against a dissident’s death sentence.

The student rallies and strikes in support of history lecturer Hashem Aghajari, condemned to hang for blasphemy, have raised political tension at a crucial stage in the power struggle between Iran’s reformists and hardliners.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday ordered a review of Aghajari’s case in an apparent effort to defuse the row. Analysts said Khamenei’s intervention revealed how concerned the leadership had been about the student protests.

Some student leaders responded to Khamenei’s move by ordering an end to the protests. But others upped their demands to include an apology from judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

“We will continue to protest till Shahroudi officially apologises and there is a guarantee no one will be jailed because of what they say,” student leader Saeed Razavi Faqih said.

It was not clear which call the student rank-and-file would heed, but at least one more rally was scheduled for tomorrow.

Witnesses said fighting broke out when a group of around 300 Islamic vigilantes entered a hall at a Tehran university, the centre of a demonstration by some 3,000 reformist students. Earlier, riot police sealed the area and parked buses around the campus to obscure the view from outside.

Students later emerged, some with blood on their faces, triumphantly punching the air and chanting “referendum, referendum” in a call for a national vote on the political future of the Islamic Republic.

The almost daily meetings at universities in the capital and across the country have been the biggest pro-reform protests in Iran since police put down violent Tehran student unrest in 1999. Khamenei’s intervention was a setback for the judiciary’s four-year legal onslaught against leading reformers.

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