Associate of Iranian president is wounded

Gunman rode motorcycle in daylight attack

March 13, 2000|By N.Y. TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- A close associate of Iran's reformist president and one of the main organizers of the reformers' landslide victory in parliamentary elections last month was shot and critically wounded yesterday in central Tehran.

A gunman dismounted from the back of a motorcycle and shot Saeed Hajjarian in the face.

The gunman and the driver escaped aboard the high-powered motorcycle into heavy traffic, but the intelligence minister said later -- without elaborating -- that the government knew the assailants' identities.

The attack raised new doubts about the ability of reformers to carry out their program of broader democracy and respect for human rights in the face of bitter opposition from entrenched stalwarts of the rigid system of Islamic rule established after the shah's overthrow in 1979.

Hajjarian, a 47-year-old newspaper editor who is a key member of the inner circle of President Mohammad Khatami, was reported to be fighting for his life last night with a bullet lodged in his neck.

Television reports showed Hajjarian lying in the intensive-care ward of Sina Hospital on a life-support system, surrounded by doctors, relatives and political associates.

Reformers won about three-quarters of the 290 seats in Parliament in the election Feb. 18. But the reform cause faces a bitter uphill struggle against hard-liners who control the armed forces, the police, the judiciary and the courts.

The reform movement under Khatami, who is a Muslim cleric, has registered a series of election landslides since his triumph in the presidential vote in 1997, encouraging many in Iran and elsewhere to hope that the Islamic system can be peacefully reformed from within.

But yesterday's shooting is only one in a series of violent attacks on reformers that have suggested that some in the hard-line camp would prefer to settle the political future in a test of force.

Khatami, who was often criticized in his own camp for treading too cautiously, abandoned his reserve after being told of the shooting.

During a provincial tour, Khatami condemned the attack in angry terms suggesting that his patience may be wearing thin.

Outside the hospital, crowds held aloft copies of a Tehran newspaper with a banner headline proclaiming "Hajjarian Terrorized!"

Reformist politicians, newspaper editors and intellectuals gathered at the victim's bedside.

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