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IRAN: Simmering tensions in lead-up to student protest anniversary

July 5, 2010 |  9:57 am

A quiet battle is being waged on the streets of Tehran between opposition activists and authorities in preparation for the anniversary this Thursday of the student protests of 1999, which is commemorated yearly and which was, before last year's disputed presidential election, the largest outpouring of antigovernment sentiment since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Messages scribbled on walls, inside telephone booths and even along the mountain paths and picnic areas favored by Tehran's middle class urge people to rally outside Tehran University in defiance of stern government warnings.

Hojatoleslam Ali-Reza Panahian, head of the supreme leader's think tank for universities, released a statement calling for the purge of "liberal-minded and clean-shaven" individuals from government offices and cautioned against a group that "will wage a war on values under the cover of Islamic slogans and symbols."

"Under such conditions, some people may mistakenly regret unjust blood-spilling, which would occur in the midst of combat on sedition," he said. "But a single case of unjust blood-spilling is far less important than the reputation of the Islamic Republic."

Picture 36Security forces have reportedly installed cameras at some universities, and many students have been called in and explicitly warned not to participate in any demonstrations, according to websites.

Activists have also posted footage of some of the street graffiti commemorating the clashes of 1999, ordinarily marked on the 18th day of the Persian calendar month Tir, which were sparked by the closing of the reformist newspaper Salam and eventually led to the death of at least four people and the imprisonment or disappearance of hundreds more.

Universities were at the center of another power struggle in June, this one pitting politicians against each other as reformist leader Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani fought President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for control over Islamic Azad University, the largest chain of semiprivate universities in Iran.

Rafsanjani's camp lost the latest round last week when the Guardian Council, which has final say in all major decisions, rejected parliament's approval of Azad's private endowment.

If Ahmadinejad succeeds in challenging Azad's status as a semiprivate institution, it would give the government greater control over the school through its assets, president and board of trustees.

Ahmadinejad and his political allies have accused Rafsanjani of using the university to support reformist challengers to the president. Tensions over last year's disputed elections continue to roil Iran's domestic political scene. 

"We are still experiencing the aftershocks of the bitter sedition over the past few weeks," the conservative newspaper Resalat said in an editorial Monday, using the term "sedition" to describe the democratic uprising following the elections. 

"Exasperation, bad behavior and extremism have dominated politics," it said. "Factional and personal hatred and obstinacy have even affected relations between the three branches of government and have overshadowed their cooperation."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Video: Antigovernment graffiti calls for rallies to commemorate the July 1999 student protests. Credit: Iran Students' Committee via YouTube

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