Liberals rally in Iran for reform

Political gathering draws 8,000 days before parliamentary elections


TEHRAN, Iran -- A singing, chanting, cheering crowd of about 8,000 people filled a cavernous basketball stadium yesterday in support of the reformers who aim to wrest control of Parliament from the insular clerical establishment that has ruled and, they said, repressed Iran for 21 years.

The enthusiastic pep rally was the first organized gathering in Tehran since the one-week campaign for parliamentary elections officially opened Friday.

The rally featured some of Iran's most outspoken liberals, who freely borrowed symbols and songs of the Islamic revolution that overturned the monarchy and brought the religious hierarchy to power in 1979.

Saeed Hajjarian, a newspaper editor who is running as part of a loose coalition of liberals, made one of the boldest speeches yesterday. He alluded to the traditional March holiday of Noruz, when Iranians usually do a thorough spring cleaning of their homes, in an indirect attack on the state of Parliament.

"Now Noruz is coming, and we have to clean up our house," Hajjarian said as the crowd burst into applause and cheers. "There are certain things in our house that have gathered dust. We must clean them off and make them shine.

"I mean that some of our Parliament members," he said, "have become bureaucrats who are building power bases of their own. Yes, some things in our house are old and decaying, and we have to throw them in the trash."

The liberal coalition of parties includes former revolutionaries, writers, officials and moderate Islamic clergymen who have tried to capitalize on the robust popularity of Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

Khatami has galvanized Iran's overwhelmingly young population with his calls to create a civil society.

The pro-Khatami group calls itself the Coalition of May 23, the date of Khatami's landslide election in 1997, and it has overcome some of the difficulties arising from the abbreviated campaign and the restrictions on publicity by including high-profile names.

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