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Iran students warn of violent turn to protests

Tehran, June 22 (Reuters): Iranian student leaders today said a crackdown on protests against Islamic clerical rule could make them adopt more radical and violent methods.

The warning came as the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog called on Iran to ease concerns about its atomic programme, a major source of friction between Tehran and Washington, which accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The Iranian student leaders said hundreds of colleagues had been arrested after a wave of demonstrations, which were hailed by the US as a cry for freedom. “Even if they send us to prison and take us to solitary confinement there are others who have more daring slogans than us and they will confront the system with more violent methods,” Saeed Razavi Faqih, one of the student leaders, said.

“Today we are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. Anyone who wants to play with this fire will be burned.” Washington has expressed support for the protests, which began in Tehran two weeks ago and spread to other cities in the most outspoken demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Washington has also warned Tehran it reserved the right to use military action to prevent it making atomic weapons.

Iran accuses US officials of interference in its internal affairs and denies any military nuclear ambitions. But despite saying it was ready to cooperate more actively with UN atomic inspectors, it has refused to allow samples to be taken from a workshop where components for uranium enrichment centrifuges were assembled.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), called on Iran to cooperate more fully.

“We have seen some cooperation, but I’d like to see that cooperation accelerated... extended,” he said on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan today.

While venting most of their anger at the conservative opponents of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s demonstrators also called on Khatami to resign for failing to deliver promised improvements in justice, democracy and social freedoms after six years in power.

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