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Iran Protests Bush's Comments as 'Interference in Internal Affairs' - 2003-06-16

Iran is protesting to the United States over what it calls interference in Iran's internal affairs following a commenty by President George W. Bush Sunday on pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran, which he said show a desire for freedom. Tehran lodged an official complaint with Washington over the Bush remarks, which followed six nights of student protests in Iran.

Mr. Bush called the almost week-long protests a positive development, and said this is the beginning of people expressing themselves toward a free Iran.

Tehran responded with a complaint to Washington calling the president's remarks "blatant interference" in Iran's internal affairs.

Protesters have chanted insults at both conservative and reform-minded leaders in Iran, including President Mohammad Khatami. Demonstrators have accused the president of failing to deliver significant reforms after six years in office.

Although gunshots were heard near Tehran University, witnesses were quoted as saying the situation was calmer than during the previous nights of protests, when hard-liners attacked the demonstrators with clubs, knives, and chains.

Police say as many as 32 policemen and about 30 demonstrators were injured during the first four nights of protests.

In a published statement, more than 250 Iranian university lecturers and writers called for Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to accept that he is accountable to the people, and abandon the principle of being God's representative on earth.

The writers and lecturers signed a petition saying that considering individuals to be in a position of divinity and absolute power is a contradiction to God and blatant oppression of the dignity of human beings.

The petition went on to say people have the right to fully supervise their rulers, criticize them, and remove them from power.

Among the signatories of the petition were two aides to President Khatami and Tehran university lecturer Hashem Aghajari. Mr. Aghajari was sentenced to death last year for questioning clerical rule. His death sentence was subsequently lifted in February, following several days of protests at the university. But Mr. Aghajari remains in prison.