Student leaders in Iran announce ban on protests

Communique requests meeting with officials

July 18, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEHRAN, Iran -- Student leaders announced a temporary ban yesterday on pro-reform demonstrations, but pressed the Islamic government on a long list of demands, including the resignation of the country's chief of police.

The decision of student leaders to call off their protests, at least for the moment, buys time for the country's clerical leadership in the face of the worst unrest since the early days of Iran's revolution two decades ago.

A communique, faxed to news organizations by the student leaders, who have called themselves the Select Council of Sit-In Students, was politely worded and included no threats or ultimatums if their demands were not met. But it nonetheless put the government in an awkward position.

The communique asked for meetings with Iran's top leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country's supreme religious leader, as well as President Mohammad Khatami and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who still wields considerable power as the head of an important oversight body.

The student leaders will decide whether to resume their public protest after those meetings, the communique said. Letters requesting meetings were delivered to each of the officials on Friday. A student spokesman said it was important for student leaders to explain their demands to the country's clerical leadership in person.

"The council will put off a decision to hold any demonstration, gathering or sit-in for the future," the four-page statement said. "So it begs our students and our mature people not to join any demonstration, gathering or sit-in that could be manipulated by anarchists and people who favor violence."

The students' communique, their third since they organized early last week, also claimed that 1,400 students and other people had been arrested since the unrest began more than a week ago. The group demanded that the authorities release the arrested people and make their identities public.

Although the initial sit-ins and demonstrations were organized by students, there is universal agreement that their ranks were infiltrated by nonstudents, perhaps members of the People's Mujahedeen, the country's main opposition group, or even pro-government vigilantes. The government has condemned the demonstrators as saboteurs committed to destroying the stability of the country, and it will be difficult for it to make concessions.

The 25-member student group is made up of representatives from 11 universities in the Tehran area and two representatives from the Tehran University dormitories where students were attacked as they slept eight days ago, a spokesman said.

Yesterday's communique was also far-reaching in that it asked the government to control "paramilitary forces" that have operated outside the official security system for years. These forces, which include semiofficial plainclothes security forces and free-lance vigilantes, were responsible for much of the violence against the demonstrators. Security forces and anti-riot police were seen standing guard and blocking roads as their unofficial surrogates beat up demonstrators.

Since his election as president in May 1997, Khatami has made tolerance and the rule of law and order pillars of his administration. But he has failed to curb the power of a range of vigilante forces.

These forces serve as self-appointed morals police in an unpredictable reign of repression, arresting women in what they consider un-Islamic dress or breaking up private parties where Western music is played and alcohol is served.

Pub Date: 7/18/99

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