Iranian Students Cancel Protest Plans

.c The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Faced by swarms of police and right-wing vigilantes, students canceled plans to hold a protest Wednesday to mark the anniversary of a 1999 raid on a hostel that killed one person and sparked nationwide anti-government protests.

Hundreds of police officers and security forces surrounded Tehran University as dozens of vigilantes gathered in the street, where students had planned a demonstration outside a United Nations office.

Police detained three student leaders at gunpoint as they emerged from a building housing Iran's biggest pro-reform student group, said Saeed Allahbadashti, a student leader.

Reza Amerinasab, Arash Hashemi and Ali Moqtaderi were arrested after addressing a news conference at the headquarters of the Office for Fostering Unity in central Tehran, Allahbadashti told The Associated Press.

The report could not be immediately confirmed with police, who generally do not comment on cases regarded as security matters.

For weeks, students had planned to mark the anniversary, seen as a rallying point for those opposed to the ruling clergy and the deployment of police and vigilantes against pro-democracy demonstrators in Iranian cities last month.

But Allahbadashti said they canceled plans to hold a sit-in protest because of ``the huge security clampdown.''

Hundreds of riot police and plainclothes agents patrolled the streets, forcefully dispersing more than 2,000 people who gathered in front of the university.

The 1999 raid on the hostel killed one student, wounded at least 20 others and triggered six days of nationwide anti-government protests, the biggest and most violent since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

To minimize the possibility of protests, the government declared last month that any student demonstrations to mark the anniversary would be banned. It also closed universities, postponed the summer examinations for two months and ordered students in the hostels to return home.

``Effectively, it's not possible to mark the anniversary of the savage raid of July 9, 1999,'' Allahbadashti said.

Hard-liners encouraged people to attend religious ceremonies on the Tehran University campus and at mosques near the main hostel - the site of the raid - to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Fatimah, Prophet Muhammad's daughter.

The ceremonies attracted scores of vigilantes who have a history of assaulting pro-democracy activists. State-run radio and television, which are controlled by hard-liners, advertised the Fatimah services.

The 1999 raid was sparked by a small demonstration outside the hostel by students who were angered by the closure of a pro-reform newspaper.

In July 2000, a military court acquitted the Tehran police chief at the time, Brig. Gen. Farhad Nazari, and 17 other police officers on charges of ordering the raid. The vigilantes who took part in the raid did not stand trial despite widespread calls for their prosecution.

In Cyprus, about 100 Iranians demonstrated in the main square of Nicosia on Wednesday demanding the release of all students imprisoned in Iran during last month's clashes. In Stockholm, Sweden, about 2,000 people demonstrated in support of Iranian students.