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Protests Grow in Iran After Reformist Professor Sentenced to Death - 2002-11-12

Demonstrations appear to be growing in Iran following last week's death sentence handed down against a pro-reform university professor who is a close ally of President Mohammad Khatami. Iran's supreme leader is now threatening the use of force if the government can not bring the situation under control.

For the fourth day in a row, Iranian students have demonstrated against the death sentence handed down last week against pro-reform history professor Hashem Aghajari.

The mostly peaceful demonstrations began Saturday and each day have grown in numbers. On Tuesday, as many as five-thousand students demonstrated at Tehran University, and protests have spread to other Iranian cities.

Mr. Aghajari is a prominent member of the reformist Iranian political party the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization. Last Wednesday a judge sentenced him to death for making a speech in which he questioned the clergy's right to rule Iran.

The sentence triggered harsh criticism from Iran's reform-minded parliament. Two-thirds of the parliament's members signed a letter demanding that Mr. Aghajari's sentence be dismissed.

On Tuesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened to use what he called popular force to intervene. It is widely believed the supreme leader was referring to the use of force by Iran's hardline militias to end the demonstrations.