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Iran Militia Calls for Maintaining Hard Line - 2002-11-24

Thousands of hardline Iranian militiamen rallied Sunday in Tehran, protesting against the United States, Israel and the increasing voice of pro-reform students in the country.

They gathered outside the former U.S. embassy and shouted for death to come to America and Israel. They were mostly members of the Basij militia, demonstrating unity with the country's supreme cleric and most powerful leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Sunday's rally came in the wake of two weeks of protests by reform-minded students, who have denounced a death sentence handed down to a teacher in November. Hashem Aghajari was convicted of blasphemy by a single judge in a judicial system controlled by the conservative Ayatollah's camp.

Reformist students have recently staged some of the largest protests over the verdict that the country has seen in more than three years. They have also called for greater political freedoms for Iranians.

The ayatollah called for student unity and cautioned that further demonstrations could result in the unleashing of the country's militia forces.

Reformist and conservative rallies have yielded violence in some cases, and they come at a time when the country's president is seen as attempting to redistribute power between reformists and conservatives, who hold key levels of influence.

The Basij are an ultra conservative organization created during the Iran-Iraq war. They now serve as government monitors and crack down on un-Islamic moral and political behavior.