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Azeri-Rights Protesters Demand Khatami Apology

Protesters in Urmiya on May 24
(RFE/RL) -- Hundreds of ethnic Azeri students in several Iranian cities have gathered at rallies to express anger over perceived discrimination that was highlighted in a YouTube video that appears to show former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami making an ethnic joke at their expense, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Khatami, who bowed out after flirting with a fresh bid for the presidency, is campaigning for fellow reformist candidate Mir Hossein Musavi.

Separate protests at Tehran University in the capital and at Sama University in Umiye demanded an apology from Khatami and the passage of antidiscrimination legislation in the parliament.

One participant in the Tehran demonstration told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that more than 100 demonstrators were on hand to condemn "chauvinism" and "apartheid" in Iran.

"Khatami should apologize via official media -- print and television," the student added.

Demonstrators insisted that Khatami should be banned from wearing religious garb, since they say he misused religion by making fun of the way Azeris tell religious stories in a remark recorded at a private gathering.

They also urged all candidates in Iran's June 12 presidential election to express their views on issues of minorities and discrimination.

On May 23, several hundred protesters gathered in front of Musavi's campaign office before police dispersed them and made at least three arrests, journalist Ismayil Javadi told RFE/RL.

A group called the Association for the Defense of Azeri Political Prisoners in Iran reported the arrest of two activists, Farshid Adli and Hamid Birang.

There were similar Azeri protests at Shahid Rajei University in Tehran and Tarbiyat Moallem University in Karaj on May 23, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.

A former prime minister, candidate Musavi was expected to visit Tabriz on May 25, and activists said he was likely to face questions on the topic from the audience.

Four people were reportedly arrested in Tabriz, in northeastern Iran, after they and possibly others disrupted an officially sanctioned but unrelated rally marking a major anniversary, shouting for ethnic-Azeri rights and criticizing Khatami.