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Counter-Demonstrations Staged in Iran Against Pro-reform Students - 2002-11-19


Hardliners in Iran held counter-demonstrations for the second consecutive day Tuesday, against pro-reform students who have been protesting for more than a week. At issue is a death sentence handed down against a history teacher accused of blasphemy.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 Iranians, some reportedly members of Iran's conservative militia, demonstrated Tuesday outside a Tehran University mosque. They rallied in support of Islamic values and against the growing voice of reformers in Iran.

Meanwhile, at another university campus in Tehran, about 2,000 reform-minded students criticized the Islamic regime.

Police failed in their attempt to stop the student rally but did manage to keep the two sides from clashing.

The immediate issue dividing the two groups is the fate of a history teacher, Hashem Aghajari. He was sentenced to death last month for publicly questioning the role of Iran's religious leaders. The teacher also reportedly said individual Muslims have the right to interpret Islamic teachings. The conservative demonstrators want the death sentence carried out. The pro-reform students want it overturned.

The most powerful man in Iran, supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for a review of the verdict.

But the ayatollah has also warned that the reformers and conservatives must work out their differences or, he said, they would face the consequences of popular intervention. This has been seen by many as a veiled warning that if the demonstrations do not stop, militia forces may be called out to stop them.

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