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DATE=8/6/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=IRAN/PRESS (L-O) NUMBER=2-265181 BYLINE=LISA BRYANT DATELINE=CAIRO CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Iran's supreme leader dealt a stunning blow to the new reformist parliament by ruling that its hopes to ease press restrictions are unlawful. From Cairo, Lisa Bryant reports Ayatollah Ali Khameini's decree is a further setback for press freedom in Iran. TEXT: Ayatollah Khameini's warning against amending the press code appeared in a letter to parliament. It said amending the press code was against the interests of the state and raised the possibility that unspecified enemies of Islam could infiltrate and control the media. Shouts and scuffles broke out after the ayatollah's statement was read. Several moderate lawmakers left the hall. But Parliamentary Speaker Mehdi Karroubi said the ayatollah's decree was legal. Iran's constitution gives the supreme leader authority over most state matters. Iran's newly-elected parliament, in which moderates gained a 70-percent majority, planned to begin debating the press law Sunday in order to ease the press restrictions introduced by their hard-line predecessors. In recent months more than 20 liberal publications have been banned in Iran. Meanwhile, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported that Iran's hard-line judiciary sentenced the head of a reformist publication to a two-month prison term. At least seven other newspapermen have been jailed since April. On Saturday, a leading reformist cleric and journalist was arrested and imprisoned shortly after he flew to Tehran after an extended stay in Paris. The cleric, Hassan Yusefi Ashkevari, was editor of a banned monthly publication. Analysts believe the press crackdown illustrates an ongoing power struggle between conservatives, who dominate the Iran's judiciary and security branches, and liberals who support President Mohammad Khatami. Dozens of liberal publications began to appear after Mr. Khatami came to power, only to be closed down, one by one. Khatami supporters say his chances of being re-elected next year are bound to be weakened if he is deprived of friendly newspapers and magazines to explain his plans for reforms in Iran. (SIGNED) NEB/LB/DW/RAE 06-Aug-2000 12:10 PM EDT (06-Aug-2000 1610 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .