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Iran's Supreme Religious Leader Calls for Calm

Iran's supreme religious leader has appealed for calm in an effort to ease political tension throughout the country after the resignation of one of the nation's top reformist clerics. The cleric had sharply criticized Iran's dominant hardline clergy.

Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, indicated he agrees with some of the criticisms made by Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri in his resignation letter. He said he also has been calling for many years for programs to fight poverty and corruption in Iran.

But Ayatollah Khamenei also said Ayatollah Taheri's critical remarks could encourage what he called Iran's enemies, supported by the United States and Israel. And he said Iranian officials should be careful about what they say.

Ayatollah Taheri resigned Tuesday from his position as prayer leader in the city of Isfahan. He cited deception, growing drug use, the extensive gap between rich and poor and incompetent leadership as reasons for his actions.

He also said Iran's conservative clerical leadership is hindering the function of civil and elected institutions and is hampering reform efforts by supporters of moderate President Mohammed Khatami.

The stinging denouncement of the government prompted Iran's Supreme National Security Council to ban newspapers from commenting or reporting reaction to the reformist cleric's decision to resign. Iran's state-run news agency reported the resignation was for age and health reasons.

More then 100 members of Iran's parliament have signed a letter supporting Ayatollah Taheri. Their letter said they understand the cleric's pain and they hope the people of Iran will listen to him.