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Iran's Khatami Urges People To Attend Rallies

Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was attacked by hard-liners during his speech the day before Ashura, in December.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Reformist former President Mohammad Khatami has urged people to attend rallies marking the anniversary of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, when the opposition is expected to revive antigovernment protests.

Opposition leaders Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi earlier this month called on their supporters to attend the nationwide events on February 11, raising the prospect of new clashes with the security forces.

The authorities have warned backers of the pro-reform opposition of a firm response if they take to the streets again, eight months after a disputed presidential election plunged the Islamic Republic into turmoil.

"The Iranian nation will show on [February 11] how it will punch the faces of all the world's arrogants -- America, Britain, and Zionists -- with its unity," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today, state television reported.

Eight people were killed in clashes between the security forces and opposition supporters in late December in the most serious bloodshed since the aftermath of the vote.

The opposition is showing no sign of backing down, despite many arrests in a continuing crackdown by the authorities.

"God willing, all people will take part in the [February 11] marches, with the common points of defending the revolution and human rights, as the principal owners of the revolution," Khatami told ILNA news agency.

Earlier today, Iranian news agency ISNA said a court had sentenced a prominent reformer who served as deputy foreign minister under Khatami to six years in jail over his role in the unrest that erupted after the election.

Mohsen Aminzadeh was one of many leading pro-reform figures detained after the vote, which plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the revolution three decades ago and exposed widening establishment divisions.


He was a prominent backer of Musavi in the poll, which the opposition says was rigged to secure hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's reelection.

The authorities have denied the charge and portrayed the huge opposition protests that erupted after the vote as a Western-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state.

Khatami, president in 1997-2005, rejected allegations that reformers were linked to foreign governments.

"In our reform-seeking movement, we have neither fixed hope on foreigners nor hold the belief that they are benevolent towards us," he was quoted as saying.

"If there is a dispute it is an internal one and if in certain instances foreign governments take advantage of the conditions they do it uninvited," Khatami added.

Thousands of people protesting against the conduct of the June vote were arrested. Most have since been freed, although more than 80 people have been jailed for up to 15 years.

Last month, Iran hanged two people sentenced to death in post-vote trials. The West and human rights groups condemned the executions, accusing Iran of staging "show trials" and of seeking to intimidate the opposition.

ISNA quoted Aminzadeh's lawyer, Abbas Shiri, as saying he was accused of taking part in illegal gatherings, planning to disturb Iran's security and of spreading propaganda against the Islamic government system in interviews with foreign media.

"Rejecting the charges, I will submit the appeal within the legal period," Shiri said.

Since November, three other leading reformers -- former government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh, former vice president Mohammad Ali Abtahi and former deputy economy minister Mohsen Safaie Farahani -- also received six-year jail terms. They held their government posts under Khatami's presidency.