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Iran: Reformers Win Parliamentary Run-Off, 'Clear Vote But Not Last Word'

Iran watchers, noting the clear victory of reformers in Friday's run-off ballot for Iran's parliament--confirming their earlier win in February's general election--concluded that the nation is on the brink of "a social explosion." "Never before...has Iran looked farther from the winter of 1979, when the Shah's escape opened the doors to the Imam's revolution," an Italian daily judged. And yet, many determined that the "power struggle" between reformers and conservatives is far from over and that hard-liners within Iran's clerical establishment, though apparently losing, are still "struggling to thwart the tide of change." Writers feared that a major confrontation would not only "sabotage any rapprochement with the West," but also have negative repercussions for the Middle East peace process and Gulf security. For the moment," London's independent Financial Times judged, the West's best strategy is to say and do little to risk upsetting a precarious state of affairs." Some deemed that the Clinton administration had adopted an "order of silence" in an effort not to "rock the Iranian boat" at this critical juncture. Nevertheless, Secretary Albright's remarks concerning the trial of 13 Iranian Jews accused of having committed espionage on behalf of Israel, drew a terse response from the Islamic Republic News Agency: "Iran's domestic policy will not be influenced by comments made by other countries' officials," it said, noting that an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman "described Albright's assertions as alien to the spirit of law and advised the American secretary of state to refresh her knowledge of international law and regulations." These were themes:

RUN-OFF ELECTIONS: Most writers judged that because the judiciary and military remain in the hands of the mullah regime, the parliament is the best hope for continuing President Khatami's reforms. Some in Europe, primarily British and French papers, however, feared a shutdown of the parliament before its inauguration May 27.

PRESS CLOSURES: The fact that the run-off ballot was held against the backdrop of "a reactionary crackdown" on reformist dailies, including one belonging to the brother of President Khatami, was widely interpreted as "a reprehensible blow to human rights and freedom of speech in the world." Citing the run-off results, the Internet version of the official Iran News declared that the Iranian people had "demonstrated their firm resolve and their reaffirmation of reforms," despite the fact that the recent press closure had prevented reformist candidates from airing their views. Many in Europe and Asia judged that Iran's "anti-democrats" have "lost perspective" and "are feeling cornered." A German paper joined others in worrying about the prospects of a new Iran-Iraq war if the mullah regime gives "in to the temptation to seek an external war in order to save itself from a domestic failure--as did Milosevic in the Balkans."

ESPIONAGE TRIAL: European writers judged that the trial is meant to be "an embarrassment" for President Khatami and that a "death sentence--provided for by the code and invoked by the most extremist commentators--would represent a slap in the president's face."

EDITOR: Gail Hamer Burke

EDITOR'S NOTE: This survey is based on 33 reports from 22 countries, April 25 - May 8. Editorial excerpts are grouped by region; editorials from each country are listed from the most recent date.

MIDDLE EAST

IRAN: "Once Again, The People's Will"

The Internet version of the Iran News opined (5/7): "The results of the second round of elections for the Sixth Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis) were announced yesterday. Forty-seven candidates out of 66 running in the run-offs are backers of the May 23rd Front (the coalition of left-wingers and supporters of President Khatami). The right faction (conservatives) managed to allocate only 10 seats to themselves in this round, while the remaining 9 seats went to the non-partisan independent candidates. According to this latest statistics, 71.2 per cent of the next parliament's elected members hail from the sympathizers of the May 23rd Front, 15.2 per cent belong to the conservative faction, while the remaining 13.6 per cent are supposedly affiliated to neither camp. The run-off elections were held at a time when a publication ban was imposed on all, save two, dailies, which used to beat the drums of the May 23rd Front. All the relevant and ongoing publicity hardly allowed a place for the welfare and interest of the vying members of the Front. In spite of all these obstructive maneuvres taken by the conservatives, our people demonstrated their firm resolve and their reaffirmation of reforms through their repeated votes. In this latest manner, our people have voiced their demands and are asking the Sixth Majlis to respond to their rightful demands through legal means and in perfect conformity with the country's constitution.... The task of satisfying the urgent and rightful demands of the people in conformity with the laws of the land is nothing short of a Herculean task. MPs' tendencies toward either [extreme] in terms of radicalism or conservatism would only result in entrenching our people's chronic pessimism and negative attitudes."

"Albright Advised To 'Refresh Her Knowledge' Of Law"

The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) held (5/6): "Responding to the latest remarks made by the American secretary of state, the Islamic Republic of Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman has stressed that Iran's domestic policy will not be influenced by comments made by other countries' officials. Announcing the above on Saturday [6th May] in response to remarks made by Madeleine Albright on the trial of those accused of spying for the Zionist regime at a court in Shiraz, Hamid Reza Asefi stressed: 'The same principle applies to the case of those accused of spying. In her comments last night, the American secretary of state claimed that the outcome of the trial of the 13 Jews detained in Iran could result in the international denunciation of Iran. She said that the way any society treats its Jewish community is the criteria for democracy in that society, and added: If Iran wishes to continue to enjoy the respect of the international community it should protect the dignity of its citizens.' The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman described Albright's assertions as alien to the spirit of law and advised the American secretary of state to refresh her knowledge of international law and regulations. Asefi said: 'The process of developments in the Islamic Republic of Iran would most definitely not be overshadowed by comments made by other countries' officials, and the same applies to the case of the trial of those accused of spying.' He also expressed astonishment about the fact that the American secretary of state allows herself to speak on behalf of a group of other countries, and said: 'The policy of non-interference in other countries' domestic affairs has two sides to it, and America is also obligated to comply with that policy.'"

ISRAEL: "The Iran Scare"

Analyst Ronen Bergman told readers of independent Haaretz (4/30): "At the height of the wave of bus bombings in March 1996, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres told the nation who was really responsible for the catastrophe--Iran. He said that Israeli intelligence had reliable

information suggesting that Iran had ordered Hamas and Islamic Jihad to launch a series of terror attacks to remove the Labor Party from power and destroy the peace process. An April, 1996 report by the research division of Military Intelligence, which included a comprehensive survey of Iran's involvement in terror, shows that military intelligence had no proof that Iran was behind the March terror attacks--or that it attempted to interfere in Israel's elections in any other way. The truth is that...Israeli intelligence has only the flimsiest of evidence tying Iran to terror (aside from its support of Hezbollah in Lebanon). There is no doubt that Iran was, and is, involved in international terror.... But we should receive military intelligence warnings with a great deal of skepticism.... From a practical standpoint, there is no point in having Israel spearhead the world front against Iran. For one thing, Iran could interpret it as an aggressive initiative. If the intelligence community is able to prevent terror attacks, let it do so without conducting an unnecessary public relations campaign."

KUWAIT: "Iran Should Not Hurry Reforms"

Independent Al-Watan published this view by Khalil Ali Haider (5/8): "The Iranians were under the illusion of creating fortunes and having good job opportunities when the reformers came into power. They believed that the economy would improve rapidly and become a part of the international economy. But, in reality, things are much different today. For instance, will privatization and improving the Iranian economy provide more job opportunities? Improving the economic situation in Iran would require integrated efforts, where all parties must join in. Their relations with the West and America need to be amended. Iranians should not hurry the reformative revolution and should not completely depend on Khatami and his allies."

"Iran's Islamic Clerics Harm Concept Of Islam"

Ahmad Bishara had this to say in independent Al-Qabas (4/30): "Iran's conservative clergy have gravely harmed the concept of Islamic rule in today's modern Islamic countries. In contrast, the victory of the reformists in the last elections provided the opportunity for the reformists to regenerate the present Islamic leadership in order to get along with the exigencies of this era. However, recent events revealed that a deep crisis would ensue from every process that would entail building an Islamic state, unless this state can realistically respond and remedy people's dilemmas, away from religious extremist slogans."

LEBANON: "Iranian Hard-Liners Close To Syria; Reformists Close To Egypt"

An editorial by Nasir Asaad in opposition, Hariri-owned Al-Mustaqbal held (4/29): "An Iranian political source says there are differences between the hard-liners and the reformist movement on foreign policy towards Israel and the withdrawal.... Both movements believe the Israeli entity is illegitimate, but have different opinions on 'how to deal with this illegitimate entity.'... hard-liners seem to side with Syrian policy. Reformists, on the other hand, seem closer to 'Egyptian policy.'... These differences are having a negative impact on Iranian foreign policy in this area, which has been rendered moribund by the split."

EUROPE

BRITAIN: "Iran's Troubles"

The independent Financial Times' editorial stated (5/2): "Mohammad Khatami, Iran's popular and moderate president, is facing his gravest challenge from conservative hard-liners since his election three years ago. Western governments and investors are understandably worried. The Middle East needs a stable Iran. Its population of more than 60 million, vast energy reserves and the power to disrupt or foster the Middle East peace process cannot be ignored.

For the moment, the West's best strategy is to say and do little to risk upsetting a precarious state of affairs.... Conservative clerics are staging a crackdown in response to a perceived threat to their political and business interests from the newly elected reformist parliament. Pessimists fear that worse is to come, perhaps military intervention, impeachment of the president or an attempt to stop the new parliament from convening as scheduled in late May.... Mr. Khatami is probably the only person who can engineer a smooth transition. Apart from an extreme minority, Iran's conservatives realize they cannot resist change. Progress will be bumpy. But Mr. Khatami and his reformists are clever enough to make it happen."

"Creeping Coup"

The conservative Times editorialized (4/27): "Iran's hard-liners have launched a counterattack.... The clear aim is to lure President Khatami's allies into challenging clerical power and then purge them.... The confrontation has repercussions that spread far beyond Iran. Islamic zealots will do what they can to sabotage any rapprochement with the West, and are already reported to be encouraging their Hezbollah allies in southern Lebanon to start attacking Israeli targets as soon as Israel pulls its troops out. And while Tehran's ministers preach reconciliation in the Gulf and to the West, extremists are preparing to resume terrorist attacks to renew the confrontation with Washington and halt any European attempt to bolster trade and political links. The only uncertainty is whether the hard-liners' assault signals the desperation of those on the way out determined to do as much damage as they can, or whether it is the prelude to a shutdown of parliament by those who have no intention of ever giving up power. If it is the second, Iran faces a long, bloody and dangerous struggle."

"A President's Progress"

The liberal Guardian had this editorial (4/27): "Hard-liners within Iran's clerical establishment are struggling to thwart the tide of change. This week's banning of pro-reform newspapers and magazines smacks of desperation, for the suppression of these symbols of free speech is an act of futility. Even the most messianic mullahs must know they cannot force an entire nation, especially one as young and talkative as Iran, to shut up completely.... Luckily, Mr. Khatami is a cool head who has been through all this before. He knows that his enemies would like nothing more than a repeat of last year's Tehran student riots as an excuse for a crackdown, even a putsch.... The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is said to be resistant to pressure from extremists, and firmly opposed to violence. In truth, the biggest threat to Iran's unique Islamic state comes not from reformers, but from those who distort its values for their own ends. Coup plots aside, Mr. Khatami is steadily winning that argument."

FRANCE: "A Paradoxical Run-Off Election"

Jean-Pierre Perrin commented in left-of-center Liberation (5/5): "The reformers have already won, but everything depends on the level of participation. This is the paradox of the Iranian legislative run-off election. Even though President Khatami has already won a comfortable majority, the stakes of the election remain fundamentally high. If participation is high, the most

radical among the conservatives, who want to engage in a wrestling match with the regime, will hesitate to enter the ring.... If participation is low, they will interpret this as an invitation and an encouragement to engage in operations to destabilize the regime."

"Iran In Danger"

An editorial in left-of-center Le Monde held (4/25): "Iran's conservatives refuse to accept the verdict of the ballot boxes. They have multiplied provocative incidents, as if they wished to initiate a coup against the voters' decision.... The conservatives want to thwart a political

evolution which has increasingly been leaving them on the sidelines, even at the risk of triggering an explosion."

GERMANY: "Clear Vote But Not Last Word"

Centrist Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich held (5/8): "The people spoke out, and they clearly voted for reforms and change in Iran.... Two-thirds of the seats in the Iranian parliament have now been occupied by parliamentarians of the reform movement or independent lawmakers.... President Khatami has reached his first goal. For the first time since his election in 1997, he has a clear majority in the cabinet and in the parliament. But despite this situation, nothing has been decided yet in Iran. Now Khatami and his governing coalition must implement th notions they have of a reform of the religious state. Thus far, Khatami was able to personify hopes without realizing his promises. He could say that his views failed because of the conservative majority in parliament. These times are over.... The clear majority of reformers begs the question of the counter-reaction of the conservatives. Since February, they have banned newspapers, arrested journalists and prominent liberals.... Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Council of Guardians now have the last word. They must confirm the outcome of the elections and are even able to block all laws later on. This means that one election does not turn a religious state into a democracy."

"Iranian Conservatives Strike"

Martina Doering judged in an editorial in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (5/5): "The conservatives are eager to neutralize the people's vote. At the same time, they are trying to provoke protest and violent confrontation. They hope for demonstrations and street fights between reformers and conservatives. Such events would provide the military and the Revolutionary Guard with an excuse for taking action. A state of emergency could be announced, and Khatami could be toppled. The conservatives are not shying away from violence to reverse the liberalization of the system. The latest threats by leaders of the army and Revolutionary Guard prove as much. According to sources in Tehran, conservative politicians, members of the guard, the police, and representatives from television came together for a crisis meeting, at which plans for a putsch were discussed.

"Foreign observers, Iranian exile groups, and even some reformers criticize the apparent inactivity of the Khatami government. But the government wants to avoid anything that could trigger an escalation. On the one hand, the government has no other choice before the parliament convenes. After all, the army and the secret service are still solidly in the hands of the conservatives. On the other hand, however, the government's course also takes into account the wishes of most Iranians. They do not want a second revolution, nor do they want to spend more years living with fear and terror. The desire for reforms--built on the Islamic basis of the system--is nothing else but a longing for normality, security, and financial well-being."

"Confused Religious Leaders"

Centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (5/3) judged in an editorial: "Are these the signs of the death struggle of an ailing dictatorship? Or does the mullah regime have a chance of solidifying its power by brutally persecuting its opponents? The carelessness with which the conservatives have chosen their means leads one to conclude that they are feeling cornered. Of course, parts of the opposition are also resorting to terror, but the attack on the secret service headquarters in Tehran at least follows logic. If now, as a counter measure, residential areas in Baghdad are being targeted with guided missiles, then such an act looks like a sign of desperation, which unintentionally reveals the following: Iranian security forces are not able to

pinpoint their attacks against the people's mujahedin and their bases located inside the hated Iraq. The series of murderers and other forms of repression against intellectuals appear just as arbitrary.... The mullahs are obviously no longer able to consider the international dimension in their calculations, as they used to do at the beginning of the dictatorship. That is no consolation, but one more reason for concern. Such a regime could give in to the temptation to seek an external war in order to save itself from a domestic failure--as did Milosevic in the Balkans. The missiles against Baghdad have conjured up the images of the first Gulf War between Iran and Iraq."

"Power Struggle In Iran"

Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg (5/3) maintained in an editorial: "The rumors about a possible putsch could be understood as a warning not to go too far. Khatami knows this and that is why he is calling for calm and restraint. He is eager to avoid an escalation like the one that happened last year, which led to the worst unrest since the Islamic revolution. Run-off ballots will take place next Friday, and the parliament, which is being dominated by reform-oriented representatives, is supposed to convene at the end of May. Since Khatami has no interest in endangering these events, he is keeping quiet, despite the arrests and the closing of papers. He would risk a bloodbath with an open confrontation. The setbacks are hitting the reform movement hard. But time cannot be turned back--even though the mullahs would like to convey that very impression. Khatami enjoys the support of millions in Iran. Only a small minority still believes they can oppose progress."

"Mullah Reaction"

Karl Grobe wrote in left-of-center Frankfurter Rundschau (4/27): "Each time the reformers back down, they lose a battle in the power struggle within the constitutional institutions. And each time the reformers have to give up what they had deemed secure, whether it is the relative freedom of the press or the relative loosening of the dress code. But this kind of behavior does not erase the growing rift between society and institutions. It is more likely to cause increased alienation between the ultimate rulers and the thinking majority. This majority is denied the right to organize politically and socially. So far, this majority has waited in vain for any action taken on its behalf by the reformers working from within the system. And even if the new parliament can begin its work on May 28 and operate, despite all attempts at manipulation, with a reform majority, the powerlessness of the elected representatives will become obvious as soon as they try to counter the mullah reaction in earnest."

"The Dictatorship Of Religion"

Wolfgang Guenter Lerch wrote in an editorial in right-of-center Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (4/26): "After a three-year power struggle, which has brought Iranians a few liberties especially with respect to the press, the radical Islamic wing of the regime, mostly represented in the justice system, makes it very clear what it does not want: Pluralism that could soften the pure

[theological] doctrine in favor of a critical discourse. This was the message that had to be made clear to Khatami's followers...before the parliament will get together for the first time at the end of May. It is becoming obvious that even a large majority of 'reform-minded' parliamentarians in the Majlis...will not be enough to realize once and for all the goals of Khatami and his followers, which are being welcomed and desired by more than two-thirds of the Iranian population.... In the end, God's eternal law stands in opposition to mere human law [in Iran].... In light of this constellation, which solidifies religion in a political manner, it is difficult to imagine that true pluralism will ever come to Iran without fundamental system changes."

"Dark Hope"

Birgit Cerha noted in an editorial in centrist Maerkische Allgemeine Zeitung of Potsdam (4/26): "The liberal press is Khatami's main accomplishment, his most efficient tool in his attempt to build a civil society within an Islamic system. This press is his mouthpiece; it allows him access to the population, the only power he possesses. Right now, the sword of Damocles is hanging over the four remaining reform papers. If Khatami loses his courageous publicists, Iran will be threatened by a relapse into the dark times of the theocracy. But Iran's reformers have shown tremendous courageous and inventiveness on the path to freedom over the past two years. Not all hope is lost yet."

"Another Round Of The Power Struggle Has Begun In Iran"

Right-of-center General-Anzeiger of Bonn (4/26) judged in an editorial: "Less than three months after voters confirmed reform-oriented President Khatami, his opponents are asserting themselves by shutting down critical papers. It was especially the growth of a free press that led to positive changes in the Islamic Republic. Iranians are expecting much from a parliament dominated by reformers--maybe more than the parliament can deliver. After all, there are still institutions which reject all innovation, among them the Council of Guardians, which has to approve everything coming out of the parliament and check its agreement with religious criteria. Some observers in the West prematurely saw Iran on the road to the separation of religion and state, a dangerously optimistic viewpoint. Another round of the power struggle has begun in Iran, and the outcome is uncertain."

ITALY: "Run-off Elections: Tension Has Not Scared The Iranians"

A report from Jerusalem by Guido Olimpio in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera held (5/7): "The strategy of tension has not scared the Iranians. In the runoff election, the reformist alliance close to President Khatami achieved an overwhelming victory. The moderates obtained 52 out of the 66 parliamentary seats to be won.... But there are several threats on the horizon, first of all, the judgment of the Council of Guardians."

"Alarm In U.S. Over Iranian Elections"

A report by Washington correspondent Ennio Caretto in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (5/6) quoted from State Department spokesman Boucher's comments on the Iranian elections, but noted: "The Clinton administration has been silent and continues to be silent: 'It does not want to rock the Iranian boat,' admits a State Department official.... Even Secretary Albright respected the order of silence. During a speech at the American Jewish Committee, she mentioned the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews, but not the crackdown on the media or the elections."

"'I Spied On Behalf Of Israel'"

Gabriella Bianchi filed from Tehran in centrist, influential La Stampa (5/3): "During Monday night's newscast, Dani Tefilin confessed that he 'spied on behalf of Israel.'... Observers fear that President Khatami's promises that it will be a fair trial will end up being in vain. Some Western diplomats in Shiraz suspect that the Jews were used as pawns in the confrontation between the president's reformists and the conservatives' hard-liners, who control the judiciary and the secret services. In recent days, the judiciary has attacked reformists and shut down some 15 media outlets.... Rumors are circulating that the conservatives want to prevent the formation of the new parliament and even that President Khatami risks an impeachment.... For certain, this trial puts in crisis the détente policy with Western countries that was begun by

President Khatami. The United States...declared that the case is a 'barometer' of the state of health between the two countries."

"Judiciary Wants To Use Trial To Embarrass Khatami"

Guido Olimpo reported from Jerusalem in centrist, top-circulation Corriere della Sera (5/3): "In Israel the confession of the accused person was received with anger and pain.... The judiciary power in Iran...wants to use the trial to embarrass reformist President Khatami's efforts to open the country. A death sentence--provided for by the code and invoked by the most extremist commentators--would represent a slap in the president's face, who is determined to extricate Iran from its international isolation. For this reason, in response to Bill Clinton and Jacques Chirac's outraged statements and official moves made by important institutions, the 'hawks' replied: 'Don't interfere in our affairs.'"

"The Gulf Risks Another Crisis"

Alberto Negri opined in leading, business Il Sole-24 Ore (5/3): "The enemy hunting has begun in Iran, from the political opposition to the trial of the Jews in Shiraz, with repercussions which will go well beyond the borders of the Islamic Republic. The mortar hits in Tehran and the retaliation actions in Baghdad against the Mujahedin Kalq opposition bring us back to dark scenarios of instability in the Gulf.... With Khatami, Iran was being transformed into a more democratic and liberal state.... The most extremist faction of the clergy will therefore try to sabotage the rapprochement with the West. And it will manipulate in a negative way any statements in support of Khatami's Iranian Spring. The first country in their sights is the United States.... They are ready to paint slogans like 'Down (with) America' on the walls.... Indeed, this time Washington must be able to balance its gestures and words, being aware that the present Democratic administration will not risk anything on the Tehran lottery until the end of the electoral campaign. In contrast, Europeans can do something more to exert, with discretion but firmness, pressure before it is too late."

"Iran: The Trial Of The 13 Jews"

Enrico Franceschini observed from Jerusalem in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (5/1): "For some months, everyone has been waiting for this new challenge between reformists and conservatives in Iran: the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews accused of having committed a crime punishable by death--espionage on behalf of Israel. But they are defended by the Iranian and international Jewish community. The trial begins today...and will be followed with bated breath all over Iran, Israel, Europe and America, because the West's political and economic detente toward Tehran might depend on its outcome. Indeed, the trial could not take place at a more dramatic time for Iran, in the midst of the reactionary crackdown that involved the closure of 16 reformist dailies and the arrests of several intellectuals."

"Iranian Spring Fading Away"

Alberto Negri opined in leading, business Il Sole-24 Ore (4/29): "Since free media have been shut down, the reformists last chance is the first session of the new parliament in three weeks' time.... But before which government will they meet, and with which ministries? It is certain that some heads, soon or later, will fall and Khatami will be even weaker. Then the unknown factor of the rallies by students remains.... Is the Iranian Spring fading away, perhaps too early in its political season? It is a difficult forecast, which might be overtaken by new storms. However, never before, in the face of this normalization and reactionary wave by the conservatives, has Iran looked farther from the winter of 1979, when the Shah's escape opened the doors to the Imam's revolution."

"The Judiciary: Conservatives' Last Move; Khatami Is At Great Risk"

A front-page editorial in provocative, classical liberal Il Foglio argued (4/27): "Yesterday, the daily Mosharekat, edited by President Khatami's brother, was closed.... In recent days several journalists have been tried. Among them was Akbar Ganji, accused of having written several stories on the killings of dissidents by the secret services at the end of 1998.... The situation is indeed very dangerous, as is also shown by the increasingly high number of invalidations of electoral results put forward by the Council of Guardians, and by the risk that 29 seats won by the reformers might be abolished.... There are concerns that the runoff elections--which are planned for May 5--will be postponed, therefore also postponing the inauguration of the new parliament. And the old parliament is still dominated by the most conservative forces...which might go so far as to impeach President Khatami. Because the conservatives are surely desperate and still have the main state organizations under their control, they continue to be very dangerous."

"The 'Iranian Spring' Was Hit"

Alberto Negri opined in leading, business Il Sole-24 Ore (4/25): "The conservative right is attacking the engine of political change in Iran.... Khatami, through a certain freedom of the press, took away the veil of hypocrisy from Iranian society, even before removing the veil from women who, not by chance, voted en masse for the reformer in the latest elections.... A new struggle between the centers of power in Iran is underway. On the one side are the president and the parliament, represented by a reformist majority, and, on the other, the Supreme Leadership, the judges and the Council of the Revolutionary Guards, who are still under the solid control of the right. Amid this clash there is Iran, which voted overwhelmingly for Khatami, and a civil society which is waiting for changes in politics, the economy and tradition. This is indeed the variable which can transform this power struggle into something different and unforeseeable, and which will tell us if Khatami will really represent a sort of Iranian Gorbachev or if his Spring will end dramatically, as happened in Prague."

DENMARK: "Strained Atmosphere In Iran"

Center-right Jyllands-Posten held (5/1): "The closure of a number of liberal newspapers in Iran could well be the beginning of a coup against the country's reformist President Khatami.... The atmosphere is extremely strained in Iran. It would be most judicious of the people to refrain from acting, as this would give the forces opposed to reform an excuse to mobilize against Khatami and his government."

TURKEY: "Coup On The Horizon?"

Zafer Atay noted in economic, political Dunya (5/1): "Tehran has become the center of speculation that a coup is on the horizon. The theory is that the radical Islamists are preparing for a coup in order to topple Khatami, who stands as a moderate figure.... Iran seems to be on the verge of a social explosion. There are millions of people who are fed up with the mullah regime, and, as a general rule, regimes that oppress people are bound to be toppled.... If the mullahs dare to conduct a coup, then nobody can prevent the bloody consequences our neighbors will face."

EAST ASIA

INDONESIA: "Iranian Reforms In Peril, Dozens Of Publications Banned"

Leading, independent Kompas asserted (4/26): "The conflict between the reformers and the conservatives escalated early this week when the hard-liners in the press court banned circulation of 14 publications, including eight papers which support the Khatami-initiated reform program..... The potential for unrest grows, not only due to the fact that more publications have been banned, but also that the strongholds of the Iranian reform movement continue to flourish, as seen in the February [parliamentary] election.... The reality shows that the tug of war between the conservatives and the reformers continues, though most in the executive and the legislature are reformers. There are still many institutions being dominated by conservatives, such as the press court."

"Press Ban Impedes Iranian Reforms"

Independent afternoon Suara Pembaruan judged (4/26): "The United States and the West hope that President Khatami continues to reinforce his position. Investment and cooperation run more smoothly in a reform climate. However, dictating to leaders in Tehran or conservative groups is not appreciated. The power of students as new reformers has emerged repeatedly only to fail and fall far short of expectations."

SOUTH ASIA

BANGLADESH: "Interference In Freedom Of Speech In Iran"

Pro-government, Bangla-language Ajker Kagoj commented (4/30): "The victory of the reformists in the February election was a setback for the extremists. The Iranian justice department has already shown its conservative reaction by sending reformist leader Noori to prison. The banning of several papers was the latest show of power by the extremists. There was no major demonstration against the banning because of the powerful position of the extremists. Students held silent processions and boycotted classes. These are not supposed to cause any concern for the extremists. However, the banning of newspapers is a reprehensible blow to human rights and freedom of speech in the world. President Khatami has asked the people of his country to show patience. The struggle between the minority group of extremists and the majority group of reformists continues in Iran. Although the minority has won temporarily, the majority will achieve its victory eventually."

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