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Iran hawks march against reformists

Tehran, Nov. 29 (Reuters): Tens of thousands of Iranian hardliners staged a show of strength today in a clear message to pro-reform students who held two weeks of protests demanding greater freedom of speech.

Volunteer Basij militiamen and women, dressed in camouflage uniforms and the white death shrouds of martyrdom, proclaimed their loyalty to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and denounced Israel at the annual official “Jerusalem Day” rally.

The march came in the wake of the biggest pro-reform student protests in the last three years, sparked by a death sentence imposed on a reformist academic who had questioned clerical rule.

The Basijis — a volunteer band of irregulars answerable only to Khamenei — declared their readiness to combat internal as well as external enemies.

“I feel the same people who back Zionism... are also trying to sow discord between the universities and the seminaries,” conservative former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani told worshippers at prayers after the rally. ‘They want to keep the youth away from the revolution, but experience shows they are doomed to defeat,” he said. “I would advise the people, especially the youth, to be more vigilant.”

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