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Iran crackdown on pro-reform leaders

Tehran, Nov. 26 (Reuters): Judiciary officials today swooped and took away at least five student leaders who had organised Iran’s largest pro-reform protests for more than three years, student and official sources said.

More arrests are likely, said officials in the Islamic republic. Analysts said the detentions may revive unrest on university campuses, which had been calmer in recent days after government officials urged students to end their demonstrations.

Students have held two weeks of almost daily class boycotts and rallies of up to 5,000 people to call for freedom of speech and major political reform since a hardline court sentenced reformist academic Hashem Aghajari to death.

Ebrahim Rezai Babadi, deputy governor of Tehran, said the arrests had been carried out by the Revolutionary Courts, a branch of the hardline judiciary that normally deals with public order and national security offences. “Based on our information some other people are going to be arrested,” Babadi told the ISNA student news agency.

The sources said student leaders Abdollah Momeni, Saeed Razavi Faqih, Mehdi Aminzadeh and Amir Hossein Balali were grabbed on the street in Tehran in four different locations and bundled into cars by groups of men wearing civilian clothes.

One of the men was walking into a university in central Tehran when three cars screeched to a halt and blocked his path, student witnesses said. Tear gas was sprayed at the scene of one of the other arrests, they said. Another student leader and political activist, Akbar Atri, was arrested at his workplace in Tehran.

The student protests reflected growing political tension in the country of 65 million people, where pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami is trying to curb the power of conservative opponents who control key state institutions such as the judiciary and the armed forces.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful figure and seen as closer to the conservatives, has denounced the student rallies, saying they were organised by pro-US enemies of the Islamic state.

Political analyst Saeed Leylaz said the arrests could spark further protests. “They're playing with fire because the atmosphere in the universities is inflamed and this will create tension again.”

The arrests came amid mounting confusion over the fate of Aghajari, a history lecturer whose death sentence for questioning clerical rule sparked the student protests.

While judiciary officials have said they will comply with an order by Khamenei to review his case, chief prosecutor Ayatollah Abdonnabi Namazi said today that the court’s verdict would stand unless Aghajari appealed within 20 days of being sentenced. That period ends on December 3.

Aghajari’s lawyer said his client had no intention of appealing the sentence, which was issued by a court in western Iran after a closed-door trial without a jury.

Today’s arrests followed a warning by leading reformist politicians to students that conservatives might impose emergency rule if the university protests got out of hand.

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