Wed, 24 May 2000

Khatami marks shaky three years in office

By Farshid Motahari

TEHRAN (DPA): Monday marked the third anniversary of the landslide victory of Mohammad Khatami in the 1997 presidential elections when he gained more than 70 percent of the votes and started a new political era in Islamic Iran.

"The large popular turnout at the Majlis election was a loud popular approval of the policies in the last three years," Khatami, referring to last February's parliamentary polls, told a meeting marking the anniversary at the Tehran City Council.

Khatami started his presidency with the declared aims of institutionalizing a civil society in the domestic sphere and opening the doors to the outside world by wiping out the notorious image of Iran in the world through dialog between civilizations.

"The global image of Iran is currently better than ever," Khatami said Monday.

Regarding the domestic situation, which is dominated by a power struggle between pro-Khatami reformists and the conservative opposition of traditional clerics, he said the only condition for freedom in Iran is respect for both Islam and republicanism in the constitution.

"In the constitution we have republic and we have Islam and both must be respected," Khatami said, addressing both factions.

"We cannot have a society in which opponents will be terminated or become a target of terrorism," the president said, referring to the assassination attempt against reformist Saaid Hajarian by radical Islamic groups.

Khatami termed the termination of the "cancerous tumor within the country's secret service" as one of the most significant achievements of his three year in office.

Several agents of the secret service were arrested last year after their involvement in the murder of dissidents was disclosed.

Khatami decisively replaced the secret service head with one of his close aides, Ali Yunessi, and since then the intelligence service has turned into a pro-Khatami organization and target of criticism by the conservatives.

On the economic situation in the last three years, he noted that due to the fall of oil prices, Iran lost 25,000 billion rials (US$8.3 billion) which was pre-calculated within the country's income. He added that foreign debts during the same period decreased from $32.6 billion to $20.3 billion.

Some 2,000 pro-Khatami students meanwhile held a gathering at Tehran university and called for the re-opening of 17 liberal publications banned by the conservatives in the judiciary and the release of "political prisoners", a term they used for journalists jailed on charges of press violations.

"The current silence is not the silence of a graveyard but the silence of wisdom," Alavi Tabar, an editor of the banned pro- Khatami daily Sobh'e Emruz told the crowd, indicating a warning that there would be a limit for the reformists' tolerance towards the decisions taken by the conservatives.

The reformists will take over the Majlis next Saturday with a two-thirds majority divided by pro-Khatami leftists and moderates and put an end to the eight-year legislative reign of the conservatives.

The leftists, most of them members of the social democratic party IIPF led by the president's brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, and the moderates from the G6 party led by former President Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, will occupy more than 200 of the total 290 seats.

Observers believe that after the power struggle between the reformists and conservatives, the two wings of the reformists -- IIPF and the G6 -- will now get involved in a new struggle.

As a first step, the leftists will try to place Mehdi Karrubi, a renowned leftist cleric, as speaker and prevent the election of G6 head Hashemi-Rafsanjani for this post.

Khatami himself has several times made clear that he prefers to continue the coalition government with the G6 -- whose members occupy the technical ministries -- and praised Hashemi- Rafsanjani's achievements as president from 1989 to 1997 despite harsh criticism from his supporters.