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April 1998, Week 3

FarsiNet FarsiNews

Tehran's mayor is at center of Iran's power struggle Apr 21
State Dept. to Issue Iran Report Apr 21
Iran says most money claims against U.S. resolved Apr 20
Students Again Push For Change In Iran Apr 20
Iran sees U.S.-financed Farsi radio sure failure Apr 19


Tehran's mayor is at center of Iran's power struggle
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- The arrest of the mayor of Tehran earlier this month sparked the largest protests since the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. His release just days ago led hundreds of thousands who lined the streets to shower him with flowers and praise.

It was partly this emotional public outpouring more than 4,000 people demonstrated when Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi was in jail that led to the Tehran mayor's liberation. Judicial officials had warned he could be held for months until his trial on municipal corruption charges.

But the 44-year-old mayor hardly seems the subject for such hero worship. He is more technocrat than politician, known for his dour expression and a no-nonsense manner that some say verges on rudeness. Others say he is simply shy.

"I really don't know how to give my appreciation. I am only a small servant of you," Karbaschi, smiling broadly, told the crowds on Wednesday after his release.

Mayor since 1989, Karbaschi has added a splash of color to polluted, congested capital of Tehran a city of 8 million by having buses painted pink, lavender and orange, and establishing small parks throughout the city.

He also built new roads, restricted vehicle access to downtown and developed 1,300 sports facilities and more than a dozen cultural centers.

All this gained Karbaschi fans and enemies. Conservative clerics complained about the "corrupting" influence of films and music at the cultural centers. And the powerful bazaar merchants say they have been taxed heavily to pay for city improvements.

Karbaschi was a controversial figure even before the corruption scandal erupted.

The mayor, a bespectacled man who studied religion in college before turning to mathematics, has acknowledged that he upset many people, but said it was done to improve Tehran.

"Obviously, when we disrupt people's lives, we are going to face opposition," Karbaschi told The Associated Press in an interview last year.

Karbaschi is the son of a clergyman. He wore a traditional turban when he began a career in television, but soon took off the headdress.

The mayor was jailed in 1978 for opposing the Shah of Iran and wasn't freed until the revolution a year later. In 1981, he was named governor of the central city of Isfahan, where he did what he later became famous for in Tehran changing the city and taxing businesses to pay for it.

Karbaschi's arrest on April 4 touched off a major power struggle between hard-line and moderate clerics. It was widely seen as an effort by hard-liners to undermine moderate President Mohammad Khatami, who was elected in a landslide victory in May 1997.

Khatami's attempts to ease social restrictions and end Iran's international isolation have upset conservative clerics.

But many analysts say that in ordering Karbaschi's arrest in a probe of municipal corruption, hard-liners in the judiciary added to the power of the moderates by causing an outpouring of support for the mayor.

"Karbaschi's release has strengthened the position of Khatami and his supporters," said Mashallah Shamselvaezin, editor in chief of the independent Jameah newspaper.

The head of Iran's judiciary said Monday the corruption investigation would continue, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

"By putting the mayor in the dock, the judiciary has made itself an object of scrutiny," the English-language Iran Daily editorialized. "The impression is that far from the image of fleet-footed efficiency and future vision that attaches to the mayor, it looks decidedly like a dinosaur."
EDITOR'S NOTE: Scheherezade Faramarzi, an AP correspondent based in Cairo, Egypt, has been covering events in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

State Dept. to Issue Iran Report
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Although the Clinton administration continues to condemn Tehran for terrorism and is planning to broadcast Fa rsi language radio programs into Iran, U.S. officials say they're still looking for ``positive change'' that could improve relat ions.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will broadcast two hours of mostly local news daily into Iran beginning in September and go to s ix hours next year despite Tehran's objections, U.S. officials said Monday.

``We believe the listening audience of Iran needs and wants an unbiased public affairs program,'' said Tom Dine, president of Ra dio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. ``This is what we do in Russia, in the Czech Republic ... in 23 countries and in their local lang uages.''

Meantime, Iran will still be on the list of nations that sponsor terrorism when the annual U.S. report on international terroris m goes to Congress next week.

The State Department tried Monday to blunt any damage that might cause to new tone being created by Iranian President Mohammad K hatami, who says he wants more U.S.-Iranian contacts. The Clinton administration is trying to encourage a dialogue to end nearly two decades of hostility that followed the U.S. hostage taking by Iranian students in 1979.

Department spokesman James P. Rubin noted that the report dealt with activities during 1997, while the Organization of Islamic C onference in Tehran didn't take a stand against terrorism until December.

``It will take time for us to determine if there has, indeed, been a change in that policy,'' Rubin said. ``We are not yet able to say that such a change has occurred.''

However, he added, ``When there are positive changes in Iranian policy, we are prepared to respond appropriately.''

The radio proposal was approved Friday by the International Broadcasting Bureau, a presidentially appointed board that oversees U.S. radio services, including the Voice of America, into foreign countries.

Congress, which authorized $4 million to start Farsi language broadcasts into Iran, must approve the final plan.

As word leaked of the U.S. broadcast plans, Iranian officials quickly criticized the program, saying the broadcasts would counte ract efforts at improving U.S.-Iran relations.

``These kinds of activities show more contradictions between words and actions of U.S. officials toward the Islamic Republic of Iran,'' Mahmoud Mohammadi, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Saturday in Tehran. ``This is a return back to the former polici es of the United States.''

But Dine said the Iranian broadcasts wouldn't be anti-government.

``That is not what we do,'' he said in a phone interview from Prague, Radio Free Europe's headquarters. ``Our goal with the Fars i broadcast will be similar to our current goals in central and eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union -- to document facts about current events.''

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty started during World War II and became an important source of unbiased news during the Cold War.

The Farsi broadcasts won't originate from Prague, however, because the Czech Republic is concerned about becoming a possible ter rorist target, according to administration officials. Instead, another city in Europe -- possibly Paris or London -- would be us ed, Dine said.

Originally, the broadcast plan called for creating a separate Radio Free Iran service, but U.S. officials said the State Departm ent rejected the idea, believing it would offend Iranian officials more.

Iran says most money claims against U.S. resolved
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran and the United States have agreed on the vast majority of cases under review by the International Court of Justice concerning Tehran's monetary claims against Washington, a senior Iranian official said.

Goudarz Eftekhar Jahroumi, Iran's representative to the World Court at the Hague, said in remarks published in several newspapers on Sunday that 3,918 cases had been solved to Iran's satisfaction, with 34 still pending.

Jahroumi said Iran demanded $2.8 billion plus interest accrued from the United States for military equipment, which Iran says it paid for but never received.

After Iran's Islamic revolution in 1979, a series of military contracts with the United States were cancelled and Washington froze billions in Iranian assets in U.S. banks.

The United States transferred nearly $10 billion to Iran more than a decade ago under the 1981 Algiers accords, which helped end the crisis in Iran in which 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days.

Tehran and Washington have clashed in the past over the issue of frozen Iranian bank assets in the United States, but Jahroumi said the amount of blocked deposits was "insignificant."

He said that $5 million of Iran's foreign ministry assets were frozen in U.S. banks.

Iran and the United States, who have been at odds since Iran's revolution, have experienced a slight warming in ties since the election of moderate Iranian president Mohammad Khatami nearly a year ago.

Students Again Push For Change In Iran
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Students are once again in the vanguard of change in Iran, where political turmoil over the imprisonment of Tehran's popular mayor spilled over into street violence.

Two decades ago, dissident students helped overthrow the pro-Western shah and create an Islamic republic through an often violent revolution.

This time, a quieter revolution sparked by the election of moderate-minded Shi'ite Moslem clergyman Mohammad Khatami as president nearly a year ago is pressing for reforms in line with his vision of a civil society adhering to the rule of law.

Iranian sources say his plans have been frustrated by conservatives whose candidates were defeated in the election but who still control many important levers of power, including parliament, the judiciary, the armed forces and internal security, and state radio and television.

"Although we were the first group to support Khatami... we have our own criticism," chemistry student Maysam Saeedi said on Sunday.

"As he promised, he should talk openly to people and avoid secret diplomacy," the Tabriz University student told a news conference in Tehran.

Saeedi is a member of the central board of Daftar-e Tahkim Vahdat (Office to Foster Unity) which last week bowed to a cabinet appeal for calm and called off a rally in support of Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who had been detained in a jail cell for 11 nights during a graft investigation.

About 2,000 students ignored the decision and there were clashes with riot police outside Tehran University and with fundamentalist hardliners at an Interior Ministry meeting to support the embattled mayor.

In the early years of the revolution Daftar-e Tahkim acted against left-wing and other student factions opposed to an Islamic republic.

Today, they are emerging as a critical force in the pro-Khatami camp, willing to take their cause to the streets where they have clashed with hardline opponents.

On Sunday, armed police guarded the group's back-street headquarters as students talked to reporters.

In the yard was the burnt-out hulk of a car which the students said had been set alight by their hardline opponents last month.

Saeedi said the students would follow the mayor's case closely, and added: "In future we will not necessarily call off any gathering if the president asks us to."

Asked what the students would do next, Saeedi said: "We do not support Mr Karbaschi because he is the mayor. Before being a mayor he is a citizen and we object to the violation of a citizen's rights.

"Since the monopolist faction is seeking to shatter Mr Khatami's front, we see defending Karbaschi as defending the president."

Both sides in Iran's left-right struggle between moderates backing Khatami's reforms and conservatives who fear dilution of the republic's Islamic system of government call each other monopolists.

A slogan scrawled on a wall in Vali-Asr Avenue, one of Tehran's main north-south thoroughfares, said: "The monopolist group Tahkim Vahdat serves turmoil."

Serajeddin Mirdamadi, a theology student from Mashhad University, told the news conference: "The faction that was defeated in the presidential elections is now after creating violence and disorder so as to insinuate that Mr Khatami's government is incapable of running the country.

"Police are acting as a political party, they are in close cooperation with pressure groups in disrupting legal gatherings," he alleged.

"The municipality affair is not the last example of the crises they (conservatives) have been creating... If they carry on like this, they will have to confront the people... and that would be the point of no return."

Parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri told deputies at an open session of the assembly on Sunday that the judiciary and officials in charge of investigating Karbaschi should tackle the issue in court and on the basis of justice and law.

At Tehran municipality headquarters, meanwhile, the 44-year-old mayor returned to work for the first time since his release from the capital's Evin prison on Wednesday.

He thanked a crowd of more than 300 well-wishers bearing flowers and his portrait, and a sheep was slaughtered outside the building in gratitude for his deliverance from prison.

Karbaschi, a former cleric who played a key role in gathering support for Khatami in the election campaign, has denied responsibility for any corrupt dealings during his eight years as mayor, but he is still under investigation.

But he said it was possible that some errors could have crept into the city council's accounting processes, although these did not constitute serious financial irregularities.

Iran sees U.S.-financed Farsi radio sure failure
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - A senior Iranian official said on Saturday a plan by the United States to start a new Farsi language radio station would fail to improve its image in Iran.

"(The plan) is a sure-to-fail effort on part of the United States to elevate its image in the Iranian republic opinion," the official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi as saying.

"Such measures further highlight the contradiction between the U.S. words and deeds regarding the Islamic republic of Iran," he added.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday a planned increase in U.S.-financed radio broadcasts to Iran was designed to "enrich" domestic political debate, not to undermine the Iranian government.

Under pressure from the Republican-led Congress, the State Department has been discussing how to boost Farsi-language broadcasts without, it hopes, derailing tentative steps toward U.S.-Iranian reconciliation sparked by President Mohammad Khatami.

"The purpose of these broadcasts is not to beam anti-government propaganda into Iran," U.S. State Department spokesman James Rubin told reporters.

The New York Times reported that the administration, pressured by Congress, would give Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty $900,000 to create a new Farsi service "to beam anti-government propaganda into Iran."


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