Student Arrests Spark Defiance in Iran

.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran announced that more than 4,000 people were arrested during a month of violent pro-reform protests, and a student leader warned on Saturday that the crackdown was only fueling hatred of the ruling clerics.

Iran's prosecutor general, Abdolnabi Namazi, said about 800 students and 30 key student leaders were among the 4,000 arrested as a result of the June 10-14 protests, the state-run daily newspaper Iran reported Saturday.

Namazi said about 2,000 people remained in jail.

Authorities had earlier said only 520 people - mostly ``hooligans'' - had been detained.

``The confirmation of 4,000 arrests shows how insincere the rulers are and how the crisis has deepened in Iran,'' student leader Saeed Allahbadashti told The Associated Press.

Also Saturday, four reformist lawmakers began a 48-hour sit-in inside parliament to protest the ``violent and illegal continuing arrest of students.''

The recent protests, the largest in months, began with students demonstrating against plans to privatize universities then snowballed into broader displays of opposition to Iran's hard-line clerical establishment, led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The demonstrations largely ended after the deployment of hundreds of security forces and the unleashing of pro-clergy thugs - armed with knives and batons - to attack protesters.

Allahbadashti, one of few student leaders not imprisoned during the protests, said the establishment had lost its legitimacy through the crackdown.

``The judicial authorities are openly lying to the nation. First, they said few hooligans been arrested. Now, they confirm the arrest of 800 students. They are buying only greater hatred from the people whose call for change has been ignored,'' he said.

Meanwhile, authorities are trying to prevent a new round of student protests to mark the fourth anniversary of a July 9, 1999 attacks on Tehran University dormitories by pro-clerical militants.

Those attacks killed one student, injured at least 20 others and triggered six days of nationwide anti-government protests, the worst since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the pro-U.S. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Authorities have banned any marches to commemorate the raid. ``An incident took place a few years back and there is no necessity to mark the anniversary,'' Namazi said, according to the Iran newspaper.

Students have vowed to defy the ban and warned that their accumulated wrath was about to explode.

In a gesture of support for students, lawmakers Fatemeh Haqiqatjou, Ali Akbar Mousavi Khoeini, Meysam Saeidi and Reza Yousefian began their sit-in protest at parliament.

``We are here to protest the very inappropriate arrests of students, with guns pointed at their throats by unidentified agents, including some students who were not part of recent protests,'' Haqiqatjou told a news conference before the sit-in.

Haqiqatjou, one of 11 female lawmakers in the 290-seat parliament, said at least 30 more students were missing Saturday. ``More names are added every few hours while unannounced arrests of students continue in provincial cities,'' she said.

Khoeini said the judiciary prevented lawmakers from visiting detained students. ``We want to talk freely to detained students without interrogators, the judge and the prosecutor. But judiciary officials are preventing this,'' he said.

Protesters have long focussed their anger on Iran's unelected hard-line clerics, while supporting President Mohammad Khatami, who was elected by a landslide on promises of delivering social, political and economic reforms. But this month's student-led protests also denounced Khatami for failing to fulfill his promises.