Policeman dies in fresh Iran clashes

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The Independent Online

A policeman was dead and a student was in a coma with his skull smashed yesterday after a weekend of violent clashes between hardliners and reformers in Iran.

A policeman was dead and a student was in a coma with his skull smashed yesterday after a weekend of violent clashes between hardliners and reformers in Iran.

More than 10,000 supporters of the reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, had taken to the streets in the provincial town of Khorramabad in response to an attempt by hardline vigilantes to break up a peaceful student conference on reform, reports from the remote region said.

The meeting had been disrupted by hardliners who had prevented two speakers addressing the conference.

Shop fronts were smashed and tyres set alight. Six students were kidnapped, blindfolded, severely beaten and dumped outside the city. The pro-reform deputy provincial governor, a disabled veteran of the war with Iraq, was attacked by knife-wielding men who overturned his wheelchair and smashed up his car.

Khorramabad was reported to be calm yesterday. But this weekend's clashes were a warning of growing frustration among the Iranian people, who thought they had voted decisively for reform in February's elections, only to see the hardline mullahs digging their claws into their positions of power.

The pro-reform press has been silenced, and the parliament has been ordered not to debate changes to the press law that had been the centrepiece of its programme, by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Full details of the weekend's violence only began to emerge from the remote Lorestan province yesterday.

It is not the first time the vigilantes have started the bloodshed. In July last year, members of the most notorious group, Ansar-e Hizbollah, were with police when they raided a student dormitory, killing at least one student and leaving the corridors wet with blood.

Officially, the vigilantes are independent groups of private citizens. But leading reformers are sure they are an organised paramilitary force. The pro-reform Intelligence Minister, Ali Yunesi, was quoted in newspapers a few days ago as saying: "These people who come to break up rallies and create turmoil... some are former intelligence ministry personnel, or are now in the ministry."

Tehran has been quiet over the summer, with the universities on vacation. But after this weekend, everyone's eyes are on the autumn when the students return, fearing that violence may return with them.

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